Can Mandela’s Death reboot South Africa?

Shaaz Nasir

A Worried Mandela

Nelson Mandela’s death was his last gift to South Africa. He could not have died at a better time for a nation losing her vision. The world has lost a true leader but South Africa has gained a rare opportunity. An opportunity that allows South Africans to be proud of how far they have come but alarmed at how far they still have to go.

When I was in Johannesburg, it only took me a few minutes to see the energy of South Africans. The sheer level of happiness, warmth, and hope was exhilarating. Let us first take a look at how far South Africa has come after 10 years of the African National Congress (South Africa’s governing political party).

Key Variables to Economic Empowerment…but for everyone?

  • The South African economy is now the 23 rd largest in the world, compared to 35 th in 2002.

  • Inflation was running at 14% in 1994. It’s now below 5% and falling.

  • Interest rates dropped from 16% to under 9% in the first ten years of the ANC Government. This is good news for businesses wanting to borrow and could mean more jobs are created.

  • The budget deficit, which was 8% in 1997, fell to 1.5% in 2004. South Africa is balancing its books.

  • 25% of goods produced in South Africa are for export, up from 10% in 1994.

  • Black South Africans are spending ten times as much on cars as they were in 1994.

Massive fundamental improvements in core economic variables that set the course for a sustainable prosperity which reaches all South Africans? Not so fast, although cars are great they don’t erase these rather depressing stats:

  • The economy is growing but not fast enough. It needs to grow by 6% a year if it’s to make any dent in the official unemployment rate of 31%.

  • 48% of the population is living below the poverty line, earning less than 530 rand (£53) a month.

  • Since 1994, Company Directors’ salaries have risen by 29% a year, workers salaries have risen by just 6%.

  • In the ten years since the ANC took power, 2 million jobs have been lost.

Far too many small businesses are struggling to secure funding, too many youth are unemployed, and worse of all too many political leaders are failing to accept accountability. We know what economic policies to implement, yet political infighting is threatening to unravel Mandela’s dream of a strong South Africa. Mandela’s recent health was a perfect analogy to South Africa’s economy: unsure and unstable.

The ANC has shown no sign of capability in implementing anything remotely close to what is needed to fulfill Mandela’s vision of economic empowerment for all. These leaders appear to hang on to power as long as possible and at any cost. This strategy is the exact opposite of what Mandela did as a leader. Yet, I believe yes Mandela’s death can reboot South Africa. Because a country never gets this kind of a chance, to pause everything and focus on what made them great with such a level of emotion, sorrow, and joy. This is the moment for South Africa to decide whether she will die with Mandela or refocus her efforts in ending corruption, improving education for the young, building health infrastructure, and cutting small business tax rates.

There is only one Nelson Mandela

As I said before, we know what policies to use, South African citizens are able to implement, but are the politicians capable? What is the ANC waiting for? I hope not another Nelson as Obama clearly stated at the memorial “We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. So it falls to us as best we can to forward the example that he set: to make decisions guided not by hate, but by love; to never discount the difference that one person can make; to strive for a future that is worthy of his sacrifice.’’

In the last 5 years I have failed to see any South African politician strive for a future that is worthy of Nelson’s sacrifice. I hope that his death will act as a catalyst for those politicians to once again strive. I believe this moment is of equal importance of the day Nelson walked out of his jail as it empowers South Africans to reboot their country.