The big story

When news broke in June that beloved for­mer pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela has made to their lives. Mat­teo Fagotto talks to was ill, South Africans of all races united in wish­ing him well, think­ing back to the dif­fer­ence he

Friday - - Contents -

We visit town­ships and a rugby field to speak to four South Africans about their first post-apartheid leader, for­mer pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela, and how the coun­try has changed since the advent of democ­racy.

Man­dela re­mains a hero, a uni­fier and a dar­ling to ev­ery­one. Who can for­get his hu­mil­ity, his charm and his bril­liant mind?” Dressed in a sim­ple, black T-shirt and grey, loose trousers, 35-year-old South African jour­nal­ist, Isaac Man­gena, can’t hide his emo­tions while speak­ing about the man who helped free South Africa from apartheid.

Shout­ing to make him­self heard above the mu­sic pump­ing from a sound sys­tem in a she­been, or lo­cal bar, in Alexan­dra, Jo­han­nes­burg, South Africa, he looks at the crowd chant­ing and danc­ing with amuse­ment and a hint of sad­ness in his eyes. “Peo­ple here in Alexan­dra town­ship where Man­dela lived feel they own a ‘share’ of Man­dela,” he con­tin­ues. “When he will even­tu­ally die, there will be sad­ness and shock. A part of Alexan­dra will die with him.”

A buzzing town­ship nes­tled among the North­ern sub­urbs of Jo­han­nes­burg, just be­side the rich area of Sand­ton, Alexan­dra is the first ‘home’ where Man­dela set­tled when he ar­rived in the eco­nomic cap­i­tal of South Africa, in 1941. To date, the town­ship still con­tin­ues to at­tract peo­ple from ru­ral ar­eas who want to try their

chances here, just like Man­gena, now em­ployed by a hu­man-rights agency.

Al­though he and his fam­ily came from Lim­popo, the ru­ral prov­ince bor­der­ing Mozam­bique, Man­gena con­sid­ers him­self a proud son of Alexan­dra, where he has lived for more than 20 years. He still has his dear­est friends here, with whom he spends most of his week­ends eat­ing and danc­ing. Above all, this is the place where he heard, on Fe­bru­ary 11, 1990, that Man­dela had been freed from prison, af­ter 27 years be­hind bars for his re­lent­less ef­forts in try­ing to over­throw the apartheid sys­tem.

Due to the in­for­ma­tion black­out im­posed by the apartheid regime, Man­gena, who was 16 at that time, had never even seen the face of Man­dela be­fore. He adds that he and his friends be­lieved Man­dela had been re­leased only af­ter see­ing cars em­bla­zoned with the banned African National Congress (ANC) flag driv­ing around the nar­row roads of the town­ship. On that day in Fe­bru­ary, which Man­gena still con­sid­ers one of the most mem­o­rable of his life, Man­gena and his fel­low stu­dents de­cided to cel­e­brate the event at a nearby univer­sity. The joy for the then fore­see­able end of the apartheid regime lasted for months, and was so over­whelm­ing that, as he says with an in­no­cent smile, “nei­ther me nor my friends man­aged to pass our ex­ams that year. But no­body cared about study­ing at that time”.

To­day, 19 years af­ter the first demo­cratic elec­tions that brought the African National Congress to power, mak­ing Nel­son Man­dela the first black Pres­i­dent of South Africa, the coun­try is per­me­ated with a very dif­fer­ent vibe. The news about the poor health of the 95-yearold, who was hos­pi­talised more than two months ago in a Pre­to­ria clinic due to a lung in­fec­tion, has brought home to South Africans that Tata (‘fa­ther’ in Man­dela’s na­tive Xhosa lan­guage as Man­dela is fondly called), will sooner or later pass away.

And while the Man­dela fam­ily is en­tan­gled in a bit­ter feud over a burial site, or­di­nary South Africans pre­fer to fo­cus on the life, deeds and legacy of the man who acted as a buf­fer against racial vi­o­lence and a moral au­thor­ity even af­ter re­tir­ing from po­lit­i­cal life in 1999.

“Man­dela in­stilled con­fi­dence and a new spirit in all of us,” says Man­gena. “Will we up­hold his prin­ci­ples? I think so.” Hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres away from Alexan­dra, in the town­ship of Inanda in Kwazulu-Na­tal, sits an ap­par­ently anony­mous high school, made of a se­ries of long, yel­low brick houses sep­a­rated by green lawns. The school, founded in 1901 by the first ANC (then the SANNC) pres­i­dent, John Dube, was cho­sen by Nel­son Man­dela as his polling sta­tion for the 1994 elec­tions— the first demo­cratic vote in the his­tory of South Africa.

Mandla Nx­u­malo, a 42-year-old proud and en­er­getic man, with a strong voice and vivid eyes, was a young man work­ing for the In­de­pen­dent Elec­toral Com­mis­sion and charged with wel­com­ing Man­dela to the sta­tion at around 6.40 in the morn­ing.

“I was shak­ing and freez­ing. Man­dela ar­rived,” re­mem­bers Nx­u­malo, his voice still emo­tional while re­count­ing the event. “I will al­ways re­mem­ber the mo­ment when I shook his hand. It was both a plea­sure and an hon­our.”

Born and bred in Inanda, in ear­lier years Nx­u­malo had ex­pe­ri­enced a never-end­ing stream of black-on-black vi­o­lence and

blood­shed be­tween the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). He be­lieves the IFP was backed by the apartheid govern­ment, which was try­ing to di­vide and rule the black pop­u­la­tion in or­der to re­tain power.

“I saw houses burnt down and neck­lac­ings [this refers to the prac­tice of set­ting some­one on fire by light­ing a tyre en­clos­ing his arms and chest]. I lost friends and rel­a­tives,” he says. “But all this is over now. It is im­por­tant to for­give and for­get.”

Af­ter cast­ing his vote, Man­dela walked to Dube’s grave­yard, just a few me­tres up the hill. He laid a wreath of flow­ers and said the now-fa­mous words, ‘I have come to re­port,

‘Man­dela in­stilled con­fi­dence and a new spirit in all of us. Will we up­hold his prin­ci­ples? I think so’

Mr Pres­i­dent, that South Africa is now free. May your soul rest in peace now’.

“We all ended up crying. This time, though, they were tears of joy,” says Nx­u­malo.

To­day, Dube’s me­mo­rial boasts a ren­o­vated grave, with a mar­ble head­stone and a small obelisk. The windy, peace­ful site dom­i­nates Inanda and the sur­round­ing green hills, giv­ing Nx­u­malo the price­less sat­is­fac­tion of his birth­place be­ing for­ever in­scribed in the his­tory of the coun­try. “This is the place where the demo­cratic rev­o­lu­tion started,” he says proudly. Still marred by deep-seated govern­ment cor­rup­tion, high crime rates, huge inequal­i­ties in the repar­ti­tion of wealth and poor ser­vices, South Africa is still decades away from the na­tion ev­ery­body dreamt about in 1994.

“Apartheid might be over, but its re­mains are still here,” says Vuy­iswa Moalosi, an out­spo­ken woman liv­ing in the town­ship of Sharpeville, who still feels bit­ter about the coun­try’s his­tory. In this town­ship, on March 21, 1960, 69 peo­ple were gunned down by the po­lice while protest­ing against the use of the ‘pass book’, a dis­crim­i­na­tory doc­u­ment all blacks had to carry when out­side their home­lands or des­ig­nated ar­eas. At the time of the mas­sacre, one of the worst in South Africa his­tory, Moalosi was only five. “It was so ter­ri­ble that even dogs didn’t dare to bark,” the 58-year-old re­mem­bers, tears fill­ing her eyes. “I re­mem­ber a fam­ily run­ning up the street, crying, af­ter they had lost a wife and a daugh­ter.”

To­day, the site of the mas­sacre hosts a me­mo­rial – made of bare me­tal poles, one for each vic­tim – and March 21 has been re­named “Hu­man Rights Day” in hon­our of the vic­tims.

Man­dela chose Sharpeville as the sign­ing site for a new demo­cratic con­sti­tu­tion on De­cem­ber 10, 1996. In a small sta­dium crammed with cheer­ing peo­ple, he an­nounced that there would be no more vi­o­lence, death and killings.

At the time Moalosi was deal­ing with the loss of her only two sons dur­ing pre­vi­ous po­lit­i­cal clashes be­tween po­lice and youths. “Ev­ery morn­ing, I had to pass over cops’ bod­ies to go shop­ping,” she re­mem­bers, her voice get­ting harder and harder. “But that day at Sharpeville sta­dium I was so happy. By sheer chance I was sit­ting right next to Man­dela... It was one of the hap­pi­est days in my life.”

The con­so­la­tion of some good mem­o­ries is not enough for Moalosi, who in 1984 lost her job at a nearby rail­way sta­tion be­cause her

brother-in-law was a po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist. But Moalosi’s eco­nomic woes are still not over. “The peo­ple who fought for South Africa are among the poor­est to­day,” she com­plains. “While the wi­d­ows and wid­ow­ers of 1960 didn’t get any com­pen­sa­tion, the black peo­ple who nowa­days got rich don’t care about the rest of us.”

Nine­teen years af­ter the advent of democ­racy, Sharpeville is still a des­o­lated net­work of one-storey houses and shacks, where eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties are few and un­em­ploy­ment is rife. The town­ship is sit­u­ated in the Vaal Tri­an­gle, the in­dus­trial hub of South Africa that was hard hit by the global eco­nomic cri­sis and the post-1994-elec­tion ex­o­dus of hun­dreds of thou­sands of white South Africans, fear­ful of a pay­back time that never came. Scores of fac­to­ries closed down, leav­ing the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion with no jobs. “I feel be­trayed by whites,” con­tin­ues Moalosi. “Some of them sim­ply didn’t want to be ruled by blacks. I don’t feel they be­long to South Africa.”

Moalosi’s state­ment high­lights one of the ma­jor prob­lems the coun­try is deal­ing with. De­spite the re­lent­less ef­forts car­ried out by Man­dela to bridge the gap be­tween the var­i­ous com­mu­ni­ties in­hab­it­ing South Africa, racial di­vide is still very much present in the coun­try, ex­ac­er­bated by city plan­ning left over from the time of apartheid, in­tended to di­vide rather than in­te­grate peo­ple.

As a re­sult, blacks and whites mostly live sep­a­rated lives, with sport­ing events be­ing one of the few oc­ca­sions to min­gle. Man­dela had wisely re­alised this when, in June 1995, he reached out to white South Africans by em­brac­ing the Rug­byWorld Cup – with rugby be­ing Afrikan­ers’ favourite sport – which was be­ing held in South Africa. The photo of Man­dela hand­ing the tro­phy to then South Africa cap­tain Steven Pien­aar at El­lis Park sta­dium, Jo­han­nes­burg, af­ter the vic­tory in the fi­nal against New Zealand, is now one of the world’s most fa­mous. “I have ut­most re­spect for Man­dela. He used his charisma to bring peo­ple to­gether. Dur­ing thatWorld Cup it re­ally felt as if we were all to­gether,” re­mem­bers Cor­nel van Heer­den, while walk­ing on the very turf Man­dela stepped on 18 years ago. On this chilly win­ter Mon­day morn­ing, El­lis Park is silent and empty, yet Van Heer­den, 28, re­mem­bers all too well the sen­sa­tion he felt on that June 24, 1995. “I would like to thank Man­dela for the coun­try he gave us” he con­tin­ues. “I wouldn’t have liked to live un­der apartheid, with­out all my black friends.”

Van Heer­den is a mem­ber of the Afrikaans pop­u­la­tion – the white de­scen­dents from the first mainly Dutch set­tlers who ar­rived in South­ern Africa in the 17th cen­tury. Al­though reg­u­la­tions im­pos­ing racial seg­re­ga­tion had al­ready been in­tro­duced in the 19th cen­tury, it was the Afrikaner-backed National Party that cod­i­fied them in a co­her­ent sys­tem of laws from 1948 on­wards. But Van Heer­den, who was only nine when apartheid ended, doesn’t feel any sense of guilt or re­spon­si­bil­ity for it. On the con­trary, the af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion laws that now favour blacks in the al­lo­ca­tion of jobs to read­dress the in­jus­tices of the past makes him feel dis­ap­pointed. “The govern­ment is im­ple­ment­ing a form of re­verse racism,” he says. “We young peo­ple didn’t take part in apartheid. It leaves a bad taste in our mouth.” But de­spite all the short­com­ings, 19 years into democ­racy South Africans still have plenty of rea­son to cel­e­brate. Con­sid­ered its young age, the coun­try has done re­mark­ably well in keep­ing a sub­stan­tial so­cial peace among its var­i­ous com­mu­ni­ties, and the civil-war sce­nar­ios pic­tured by many an­a­lysts and me­dia have never ma­te­ri­alised.

The hous­ing pro­grammes have pro­vided ba­sic dwellings for mil­lions of peo­ple, achiev­ing its most re­mark­able re­sults in the town­ships around Jo­han­nes­burg. And while the racial di­vide is still very much present, some ar­eas in Jo­han­nes­burg are be­com­ing the spear­heads of a more in­te­grated so­ci­ety, with peo­ple of all races gath­er­ing for art exhibitions, con­certs or sim­ply hang­ing out to­gether.

Back in Alexan­dra, Isaac Man­gena is con­fi­dent that South Africans will be able to move for­ward on their own, even when Man­dela passes away. “Man­dela will al­ways be there as a point of ref­er­ence for ev­ery­one, es­pe­cially for our politi­cians,” he says, his eyes gleam­ing with pas­sion and com­mit­ment. Then, Man­gena re­veals with pride that his younger sis­ter is dat­ing a white guy. “This is so amaz­ing, af­ter all we have gone through,” he smiles.

Last year this mon­u­ment, which forms Nel­son Man­dela’s face through a se­ries of steel col­umns, was un­veiled in How­ick, KwaZulu-Na­tal, to mark the an­niver­sary of his im­pris­on­ment

Be­low: Isaac Man­gena

and his friends found it hard to be­lieve when they heard Man­dela had been re­leased af­ter 27 years in cap­tiv­ity

Right: Mandla

Nx­u­malo got to meet his hero as he vol­un­teered at the polling sta­tion where

Man­dela voted in the coun­try’s first demo­cratic


Be­low: Vuy­iswa Moalosi says that the peo­ple who fought for the coun­try are the poor­est and “black peo­ple who nowa­days got rich don’t

care about the rest of us”

Right: Cor­nel Van Heer­den I would like to thank Man­dela for the coun­try he gave us. I wouldn’t have liked to live un­der apartheid, with­out all

my black friends.”

Just as he did dur­ing his pres­i­dency, Man­dela has once again united South Africans of all colours from all eco­nomic back­grounds, sadly this time it’s been over con­cern for his health

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