The unspoken legacy of Mandela is the continued oppression of poor blacks in South Africa

20 years on from the end of Apartheid and 15 years after Mandela’s transformative presidency came to an end, what has his reconciliation and reversal on socialism brought?

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The Independent Online

One year ago upon the death of Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s liberator, I wrote about Madiba and his relationship with my late uncle, who spent a number of years on Robben Island.

In those initial days after Mandela’s passing, one could only grieve for a great man. To remember his desire for unity and peace, his amazing ability to put the horror of Apartheid and the long, draining years of the Struggle behind him, and ask South Africans to forge a rainbow nation.

Not that my other uncle was particularly pleased with my Mandela eulogy, chastising me quite rightly, for inflating Mandela’s legacy and becoming swept up in - to an extent - the Western adoration of the country’s first black leader.

For among certain members of my family, Mandela’s victory and premiership was also a sign of capitulation: his failure to enact socialist economics and his reconciliatory approach to the white minority after Apartheid’s demise.

On the first point, civil rights struggles the world over have never been about just arguing for a change in legislation. Administrative reforms can go only so far and a fundamental shift in the socio-economic structure of a country needs to be ensured for the inequality of the past to gradually be eradicated.

Thus, when Mandela died, commentators in the West either praised Mandela for never enacting the radical socialist principles once espoused by the African National Congress (ANC) or they attacked him for being, at heart, a violent revolutionary in cohorts with Castro and Gaddafi.

That commentary failed to listen to those who struggled under Apartheid and felt betrayed that a socialist system was never attempted by Mandela, a radical approach that could help poor, black South Africans escape from the oppression of the past 46 years. Imagine struggling for so long and coming so close to an ideal; the socialist dream activists talked about while wasting away in prisons across the country, and then…nothing. Mandela was elected on a wave of hope, yet he got cold feet and did not dare touch the capitalist mechanics that kept the white minority prosperous. Apartheid lives on in everything but the name.

On the second point of reconciliation, Mandela’s famous embrace of the Springbok jersey at the 1995 Rugby World Cup may make for a great Hollywood scene with Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman, but for others it was the ultimate betrayal. The perpetrators of Apartheid were never really brought to justice; instead the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) allowed victims to come forward and be heard while allowing those who orchestrated the violence the ability to request amnesty from prosecution.

All of this was carried out to halt any fears the white minority might harbour once the majority ruled over them. To stop a white flight of capital and talent from South Africa at a time when it most needed it.

20 years on from the end of Apartheid and 15 years after Mandela’s transformative presidency came to an end, what has his reconciliation and reversal on socialism brought?

The South African Reconciliation Barometer this week showed that on the issue of reconciliation, just over 50 per cent of white South Africans think that apartheid was a crime against humanity. The report read, “The lack of awareness around historical truths is particularly striking among white South Africans.” So much for reconciliation.

Another key finding from the report, was that although there were signs of growing integration in the country in terms of race, that narrative altered when it came to the economics. Poor South Africans experienced less racial interaction than those in the middle and upper parts of society.

“These results point to the broader exclusion of the poor from integration processes that occur within the formal economy. Many black South Africans remain trapped in segregated townships and rural areas with weak infrastructure.”

Such musings on Mandela’s legacy one year on from his death are pertinent given the on-going protests in the US. A country with a chequered history when it comes to race relations, America has similarly never really seen any real sense of justice for African Americans. The legislative victories of the 1960s have never been matched with socio-economic advancement nor have many of the country’s institutions ever dealt with the black community in a fair or just way. Justice and economic power are seemingly the hardest victories.

Not all the blame can be laid at Madiba’s door: a system of entrenched political and economic segregation that lasted so long was bound to take a while to dismantle. Yet surely, in seeking to fundamentally alter the economics of the South African state, like the young Mandela wanted, and ensuring the white minority came to terms with its disgusting history, South Africa’s future might be much brighter.