Children with placards showing the face of Nelson Mandela and referring to his clan name "Madiba", march to celebrate his life, in the street outside his old house in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa Friday, Dec. 6, 2013. Flags were lowered to half-staff and people in black townships, in upscale mostly white suburbs and in South Africa's vast rural grasslands commemorated Nelson Mandela with song, tears and prayers on Friday while pledging to adhere to the values of unity and democracy that he embodied. (AP Photo/Athol Moralee)


South Africa has taken a turn for the worse

  • December 7, 2013 - 4:42 PM

The early years after the fall of apartheid were hopeful ones. South Africa held free and fair elections (in which Nelson Mandela was voted in as president), conducted a riveting and revolutionary truth-and-reconciliation process, built a respected multiracial judicial system and permitted a vigorous free press. Thanks to Mandela, it largely avoided the angry reprisals against whites that were widespread in neighboring Zimbabwe. The black middle class began to grow.

But South Africa has taken a turn for the worse. The country’s economic, racial and social problems pose a challenge to its democracy, and the competence and integrity of successive African National Congress governments have been called into question.

Crime rates are high — especially those of rape and sexual assault. Allegations of corruption are widespread. Between 1998 and 2011, the infant mortality rate doubled. According to the Washington Post, a quarter of South Africans lack proper housing and a quarter have no electricity. Unemployment remains stubbornly high. The disparity between rich and poor has widened.

The country’s leaders have failed to rise to the occasion. Former President Thabo Mbeki’s denial that the HIV causes AIDS so hampered the distribution of antiretroviral drugs that an estimated 330,000 people infected with HIV died prematurely between 2000 and 2005. The current president, Jacob Zuma, has fought off accusations of graft and bribe-taking.

Mandela’s death should remind us of the causes to which he dedicated his life. Rather than cynically wrapping themselves in the mantle of his name, the country’s leaders should work with new determination to build South Africa into the nation that Mandela dreamed it could be.


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