Mandela’s Legacy: South Africa’s Unmet Promises Echo on Vilakazi Street

Sun Dec 03 2023
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SOWETO, South Africa: Soweto’s Vilakazi Street, packed with tourists and hawkers outside Nelson Mandela’s meticulously preserved home, tells a tale of contrasting narratives. The democracy pioneer’s legacy appears rundown in the decade since his death, leaving many South Africans feeling let down.

Ntsiki Madela, a local jewelry and hat vendor, shares her disappointment. Despite drawing tourists, Madela questions the impact of Mandela’s democracy on her daily life, expressing doubt about the need to vote. As South Africa approaches its 30th anniversary of democratic elections, authorities grapple with declining voter numbers and increasing discontent with the ruling ANC.

Since the inaugural elections in 1994, voter turnout has steadily decreased. The ANC, in power since then, faces challenges as polls indicate a potential drop below 50%, signaling dissatisfaction amid economic stagnation and corruption allegations.

Inequality remains a critical issue, with unemployment soaring at 32%, among the world’s highest. Despite the end of apartheid, South Africa ranks lowest globally in terms of equality, fostering discontent among citizens. The government and state firms grapple with over $300 billion in debt, exacerbating daily challenges faced by communities like Madela’s.

Street crime, murders, and chronic power cuts further underscore the struggles of daily life. Many, like Madela and her neighbors, endure almost 12-hour power outages, highlighting the infrastructure challenges and the cost of living burdens. The promises of a post-apartheid South Africa seem unfulfilled, leaving citizens disillusioned.

Critics argue that Mandela’s legacy has been undermined by his own party officials. Corruption and moral deviations from Mandela’s vision have eroded the ANC’s credibility. Political analysts suggest that the mythology surrounding Mandela’s era creates an unattainable standard for subsequent leaders.

The government and the ANC face not only economic challenges but also widespread voter apathy. Former President Jacob Zuma’s forced resignation over corruption allegations highlights the corruption issues within the ANC. President Cyril Ramaphosa, while cleared of corruption allegations, faces skepticism.

In the midst of Vilakazi Street, locals like teacher Sive Jizana express the sentiment that Mandela’s legacy is fading. Running water, proper roads, and consistent electricity remain elusive for many South Africans, contributing to a growing sense of disillusionment. Unemployment and a lack of tangible benefits lead many, including sociology graduate Zandile Cubeni, to abstain from the voters’ list.

The ANC, once a symbol of hope, is now viewed by some as perpetuating poverty and compromising the democratic ideals Mandela fought for. As South Africa approaches the 2024 vote, concerns about captured courts and institutional doubts cast shadows over the electoral process.

Despite attempts by Mandela loyalists to redirect focus towards the future, the ANC faces an uphill battle to restore faith in its ability to bring about meaningful transformation. Mandela’s family maintains public faith in the ANC’s successes and failures, emphasizing the ongoing litmus test of land transformation as a measure of progress.

Vilakazi Street stands as a microcosm of South Africa’s unmet promises and fading hope. The ANC’s challenge is not only to navigate economic troubles but also to address the growing disillusionment among its citizens, reconciling Mandela’s ideals with the harsh realities of today.

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