When Nelson Mandela went to prison under South Africa’s apartheid government in 1962, he was head of the African National Congress’s militarized wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). For years, nonviolent opposition to apartheid’s horrors and oppressions had gone unanswered, and so Mandela and his comrades began stockpiling weapons and preparing to do battle with the government. As you know now, Mandela was arrested and imprisoned on Robben Island for 27 years.
Mandela was finally released from prison in 1990, a development that was soon followed by the fall of apartheid in 1994. That’s the same year Mandela became president, supported throughout his five years as president and after by the same political party with which he was affiliated before: the African National Congress (ANC).
In two days, on Jan. 8, the ANC will celebrate 100 years of existence. But more than just a party, the centennial will also be a time for reflection, too. Big questions linger for the party about what the future holds, and all of South Africa is waiting to see that that future may be.
Though he’s no longer the president, Mandela remains very much the guiding light of South Africa. But the beloved leader and mentor is getting quite old — he’ll be 94 this year — and when he passes, South Africa’s Black population may feel rudderless for the future. The ANC will need to be powerful for them, but it looks like that may be difficult. This from a new Time magazine report:
At 93, Mandela is still among the most admired people on earth. But his party has become synonymous with failure — and not coincidentally, arrogance, infighting and corruption. [Bishop Desmond] Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and, at 80, still the nation's moral conscience, encapsulated South African political debate last year when he came out of retirement to give two speeches. In the first he asked whites to pay a wealth tax in recognition of their persistent advantage. In the second he called the ANC "worse than the apartheid government."
Poverty and crime continue to ravage South Africa, and the ANC hasn’t been able to do a thing about it. In fact, income inequality actually worsened after apartheid fell, with a select elite remaining in power while millions of others languish.
How did an organization that birthed Nelson Mandela fall into such disrepair? Part of it certainly has to do with the fact that some people are resting on their laurels after defeating apartheid. But mostly it’s the same problem all organizations have: They’re only as good as the people running them — and Mandela’s generation, the group that really remember how bad things were at the height of apartheid, is getting old.
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