Nelson Mandela memorial: The booing of Jacob Zuma shows that divisions still remain

In front of leaders from around the world, South Africa’s current President was derided as Nelson Mandela was honoured

Amid all the solemn reverence accompanying Nelson Mandela to his final resting place, South Africa and the world received a rude reminder of the divisions he left behind.

In front of dozens of international leaders, much of the crowd at a memorial ceremony in Soweto’s FNB Stadium booed South Africa’s current President, Jacob Zuma, and cheered Thabo Mbeki, the man he ousted first as leader of the African National Congress (ANC), then from the presidency.

The hostility that greeted the President’s image on the stadium’s giant screen might have been a shock, but perhaps it was not surprising. A man who in his time has faced charges of rape and corruption (he was acquitted of the first and the latter case was dropped), Mr Zuma never seems able to escape controversy for long. The latest scandal is over the expenditure of £1.2m of public funds on his lavish homestead in rural Zululand, allegedly for security improvements. An official report on the matter was due this week, but has been postponed.

Those who still see tribalism as a force in South Africa would point out that Mr Zuma was a long way from his Zulu heartland. Although the Zulus are South Africa’s largest ethnic group, that carries little weight in the ethnic melting pot of Soweto. Many residents still remember the savage attacks they suffered – before the 1994 freedom election – from Zulu migrant workers, traditionalists who were told that the ANC represented a threat to their tribal identity.

Even if that is all in the past, there is still plenty of cause for resentment in South Africa’s woefully uneven economic development. Democracy has created a new black middle class, but wealth remains overwhelmingly in the hands of whites. Unemployment stands at a third of the workforce, nearly all black, and official corruption is worsening.

But if that is more than enough reason to jeer Mr Zuma, why would the FNB crowd applaud Mr Mbeki? Mr Mbeki, Mr Mandela’s chilly, remote successor, has never been a man to inspire much affection. His wrong-headed refusal to distribute anti-retroviral drugs made millions of South Africans face a lingering death from Aids; his insecurity and inflexibility eventually alienated everyone in his party outside his immediate circle.

The crowd also showed its support for such divergent figures as the Nobel-winning Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. But the answer to the Zuma/Mbeki conundrum might lie in reports that there were cheers in the stadium for an even more unlikely figure: F W de Klerk, South Africa’s last white leader. He won the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Mr Mandela, but fell out with the great man. That would indicate that the animosity towards Mr Zuma was not the result of divisions within the ANC, but between South Africa’s ruling establishment and the rest. If Mr Mbeki and Mr de Klerk have anything in common, it is that they sought what they thought was best for South Africa. Contrast that with an elite that is accused of having few policies beyond self-enrichment.

Until today, there had not been a single unpleasant incident anywhere in South Africa.

Whatever other conclusions can be drawn from the booing and cheering in the FNB Stadium where Mr Mandela made his last public appearance during the 2010 World Cup, even the poorest and least-educated in South Africa know that the leaders they have today do not come close to matching the greatness of the one they have lost.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss