MANDELA: VENERATED BY THE WORLD, BUT BLACK YOUTH

Mandela's Day Off

He is most probably the world’s most loved politician and equally, the most hated. The latter has been bubbling under since the dawn of South Africa’s democracy in 1994, but is rising to the brim with each generation of black young South Africans, who are detaching themselves from the legacy of Nelson Mandela.

Tata, Madiba, Father of the nation, South Africa’s founding father…and other rhetoric of that ilk, will be on the tongues of many all over the world as today, marks what would have been, Mandela’s 100th birthday.  Brand Mandela will be celebrated through different initiatives- former USA president Barack Obama delivered a moving speech yesterday at the 16th annual Nelson Mandela lecturer which was attended by nearly 10,000 people at the Wanderers Cricket stadium; DSTV has launched a pop-up channel in honour of the man. In Germany, members of the Music Is A Great Investment (MIAGI) Youth Orchestra will embrace their contrasting origins and background to spread Madiba’s legacy through song. Since yesterday until tomorrow, the Southbank Centre in London will launch a free exhibition of the life of Mandela while in America, United Nations staff and diplomats will also carry out a public service activity in Mandela’s name, all in cooperation with the New York City Mayor’s office.

It should be noted that the common thread in all these activities, is that it stems from Caucasians or organizations ran by white people.

But looking and listening to young black South Africans, July 18 is just another day on the calendar. The disgruntlement comes from how South Africa’s democracy was found and the country’s inequality today. Usually dubbed the ‘sell-out’, Mandela is criticized for not putting the needs of black people first in the negotiations that took place before the African National Congress (ANC) took over the reins.

White South Africans who engineered the draconian apartheid system, were never sufficiently chastised for their generational costly deeds.  That black people still are the most impoverished in the South Africa is telling. CEO positions are still mostly occupied by white people.  The resentment of Mandela grows with each Mandela Day, as he is blatantly professed as the saviour of South Africa.

Years ago, waiting for a train at the Tembisa train station I eavesdropped on a conversation, between women who are domestic workers in the Kempton Park area. “I really thought that, after apartheid white people would be the ones working for us now. I thought I’d be bossing them around,” said one lady, followed by a burst of laughter. What she said and the manner she said it in, has always stuck with me. Her statement talks to the expectation that black South Africans had, when they went to cast their votes on April 27 in 1994, while her laughter resembled, how black people, time and time again, find humour in the darkest situations.

But she was old enough to vote, over 20 years ago and has somehow found a way to live in the new South Africa, much like what happened during apartheid. But the current generation of black youth is gatvol. Rightfully so. Co-founder of Soweto Art and Craft Fair, Seven Colour Sundays and Dinaledi Lifestyle Market, Mbali Radebe wrote on Facebook “Post 100 reasons why black people should let go of the so called ‘Mandela legacy’” and a number of people heeded the call, although she didn’t reach the 100 mark at the time of writing this, the response was telling.

Speaking to Tha Bravado, Radebe says the Mandela legacy serves no justice to black people. “It’s a legacy built on lies, most of the struggles our people are facing today were caused by the decisions he made at the most critical time of South Africa,” the 31 year-old Radebe says.

The Fees Must Fall movement was just sign of the growing impatience, from young people who were raised by parents that long gave up on the promises that came with a new South Africa. “They have finally realised that the legacy was all just a front. No education for the black child has been free, our parents have never had better opportunities, they have always been subjected to working for the white man and this has caused difficult living conditions for  youth post 1970, will now with ‘the born frees’.”

Madiba is blamed for not taking back the land and everything else that wasn’t rightfully aquired by white people in South Africa and for being too forgiving, in the name of building a Rainbow Nation. But a transition period was necessary; black people in Mzansi at the time weren’t in control of the army, police, healthcare, food supply nor education. Civil war is no child’s play and I believe, without a doubt that it would be helpless black people who would’ve suffered most, had Mandela decided on a civil war.

“The blame is put on him because he was the leader at that time and he could have lead the ANC differently,” says Radebe. “However we could say it’s the party as a whole. The Chris Hani mission or act which I wish all young black South Africans can get a chance to watch his documentaries, about the plan to set up the military which Bab’Hani was conducting in South Africa with Mum Winnie [Mandela] under the MK structures. We were ready for retaliation if only the action was taken under orders of Bab’Hani.”

It was the wise decision not to go to war at the time, but after Mandela’s first term in 1999, a conversation around land should’ve immediately taken place. But instead, we’re watching land debates on eNCA, in 2018.

It’s as though the ruling party was underestimating people’s intelligence, by supplying RDP houses, but it’s clear that project isn’t a long-term solution as majority of black people are still stranded in poverty.

Radebe says Madiba didn’t do much for her township, Soweto. “He left nothing. But Mam’Winnie left a more powerful legacy than him. She was the backbone of the black youth, and was the reason why people knew about Mandela whilst he disappeared, she fought for us.”

Crying over spilt milk could never solve anything, but the ruling party needs to address people’s needs that they ignored for the past two decades; to quell the anger that a lot of black youth who harbour resentment for a man that has died but whose legacy will never demise, in our lifetime at least .

Bonginkosi Ntiwane

A South African storyteller.


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