South Africans Celebrate First Black President, but Boo the Current One

Thousands, including dozens of global dignitaries, piled into Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium to celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela. But when current President Jacob Zuma took the stage, he was roundly jeered

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Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters

South African President Jacob Zuma waves as he arrives at the FNB Stadium, also known as Soccer City, ahead of the national memorial service for late former South African leader Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg on Dec. 10, 2013

The days since Nelson Mandela’s death have been marked in South Africa with an undefined doubt, a rumor of ambivalence, a whisper of disenchantment. Away from the crowds of hundreds lighting candles outside his home, away from the thousands of mourners who laid flowers in front of his statues, events to commemorate the passing of South Africa’s first black President have been poorly attended and the myriad broadcasts of remembrances of him often seemed to be going unheard.

On Tuesday, as more than 100 world leaders from U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro to Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe gathered for a memorial at a soccer stadium on the edge of Soweto, South Africa’s unease moved closer into focus. A crowd of tens of thousands braved torrential rain to cheer on Presidents, Prime Ministers and celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Bono. Obama, American’s first black President, received the loudest cheer and a standing ovation for a rousing speech in which he said: “While I will always fall short of Madiba’s example, he made me want to be a better man.”

(MORE: Obama Honors Nelson Mandela: ‘His Triumph Was Your Triumph’)

Whenever the cameras alighted on South Africa’s own President, Jacob Zuma, however, the crowd loudly booed him. Entreaties from Zuma’s subordinates in the African National Congress to be quiet and more polite failed to silence them. By the time Zuma stood to give a wooden keynote address, read from a sheath of papers, the stadium was all but empty. “Madiba was one of a kind,” Zuma said. And that, apparently, was precisely the problem.

South Africa’s memorial day began promisingly enough, with tens of thousands traveling in the early hours to the giant FNB Stadium, to the southwest of Johannesburg. But even as the event was scheduled to begin, it was clear whole tiers of seats were not going to be filled. Outside South Africa’s business capital, the mood was even more subdued. In Cape Town, just a few hundred people showed up to watch a giant outdoor screen relaying a broadcast of the event.

In the ANC’s heartland, the Eastern Cape, where Mandela will be buried at his home village of Qunu on Sunday, there was little to show the day was different from any other — and little to show either that much had changed in the nearly 20 years since the end of apartheid in 1994. In scores of small towns here — where unemployment can reach 80%, HIV/AIDS infection 33% and violent crime is three times what is already one of the worst national rates in the world — hundreds of jobless blacks were still to be found waiting by the side of the road in the hope that a white farmer passing in a pickup would stop and hire them for a day’s work. In Qunu itself, perhaps 100 people gathered in front of a giant screen at a small museum erected in honor of Mandela — but somehow the screen never came to life. In the nearby city of Mthatha, patrons in the one restaurant showing the memorial — Mike’s Kitchen — ignored the three screens on the wall, which were eventually muted.

In that context, pledges by several speakers at the memorial to follow Mandela’s example began to feel like an admonishment of Zuma. Any leader following Mandela faces an unenviable task in the shadow of one of the most towering political figures of the past century. But Zuma has been particularly disappointing. Even before he took power, he was embroiled in sex-and-corruption scandals. His administration has been plagued by a near constant stream of stories of ministerial and official impropriety. Mandela’s death at 95 was one of the few stories able to push from the front pages the latest controversy to tarnish Zuma — a public prosecutor’s report that he spent $20 million in state funds massively expanding his private home outside Durban, including installing a large swimming pool. Government officials have said the money was spent on security upgrades.

(MORE: Things Fall Apart: Mandela’s Sad Legacy of Successors)

Obama was one of several speakers who said Mandela’s legacy demanded self-reflection. “Michelle and I are the beneficiaries of [Mandela’s] struggle,” he said. “But in America and South Africa, and countries around the globe, we cannot allow our progress to cloud the fact that our work is not done. We must ask: How well have we applied his lessons in my own life?”

“Around the world,” said Obama, but in words that seemed to apply as closely as anywhere to South Africa, “we still see children suffering from hunger and disease, run-down schools, and few prospects for the future … Men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs, and are still persecuted for what they look like, or how they worship, or who they love. There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality. There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.”

With the African National Congress’s seemingly unshakeable lock on votes, Zuma seems likely to be re-elected next year at his second general election. But on Tuesday, South Africans at least made their voices heard.

18 comments
lafrasl
lafrasl

The first heart transplant that was done in the world, was done in a public South African hospital in 1967 by a dr Chris Barnard. Today when you go into a public hospital, you need to take your own linen, just to get them stolen when you go to the toilet.


Is this also part of Mandela's legacy?

A_WizeFilms
A_WizeFilms

@PaulGray007Yes yes yes, time to stop talking about the Africa we want to see and be it...be that hope. It takes hard work and a big vision to get there. Inspire young ones to look far ahead of their lifetimes, something we lack in Africa is the ambition to leave a wholesome political and economic legacy for the future generations....but we can learn that easy. Mandela's example is unbeatable. 

This article is an obvious smear campaign or the thoughts of a small thinker who has no interest in seeing the glass half full.


I lived in South Africa since 2000 and over the years saw changes that empowered more and more previously disadvantaged people, perhaps more during Mbeki's term. 


The number of previously disadvantaged people that occupied middle class apartments in our neighborhood grew from nothing to almost 90% between 2000-2008...the number of black South African students that could get into my film school program (just an example) grew from 10% to 70% over 4 years! 


So yes! Keep moving even in your business and believe. 


South Africa we are with you!


RWANDA :)

SidneyCoadWilliams
SidneyCoadWilliams

PRESIDENT MANDELA WAS THE BEST PRESIDENT SOUTH AFRICA HAS EVER HAD.

HE WAS A MAN OF MERIT.

HE WAS HONEST, CIVIL AND COMPETENT.

IF ALL POLITICIANS OF THE WORLD CAN EMULATE HIM THE WORLD WILL BE A BETTER PLACE. 

SIDNEY COAD WILLIAMS   HEALTH AND PEACE ACTIVIST.

LesegolaMolefe
LesegolaMolefe

@aztecian I'm flabbergasted by your sheer witlessness, though Africa will not be an economic giant in the next 10 years we are not savages. I challenge you to visit South Africa and see transformation in progress. Remember we didn’t ask to be colonized, disenfranchised, enslaved and disturbed. So thanks to your ancestors we have to reverse history, I will take us a long time but the work has begun.


kon-tiki
kon-tiki

the Death knell of ANC starts....so is infighting and corruption along with instability of the nation.

firmsoil
firmsoil

This freedom-hating-african-idiot barred most peaceful and noble creature like Dalai Lama from coming to South Africa!

Why did mandela not protest this evil from his african brother?

david.axelrod
david.axelrod

Let's be honest......From Obama to Detroit to Africa, BLACK = FAIL

CrossWinds
CrossWinds

Reconciliation can only take place when both parties come to an agreement. Reconciliation can only take place when the offender realizes his offence, and changes course. Mandela forced his captors to face the evil of their ways and change course. We can only make peace with God in the same way. We recognize our sinfulness, and Gods Holiness. Amazingly, He is not holding our sins against us, but invites us to be reconciled to Him through our changing course, and accepting His forgiveness.......Great deal I think........But count the cost of the offence of the Cross in this world, that resists its message more and more........

2 Corinthians 5:18-20.........

18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”

PaulGray007
PaulGray007

To say something like that is only shows your own ignorance. The colour of ones skin does not determine their ability think or lead or exact change and you are evidence of that. The failure of Obama to enact change is not his alone but that of his country's citizens and corporations as well. You, sir, take the blame of failure too. In my country, South Africa, I hold part of the blame of failure to create change as well. However I have taken to try and make a difference through my own hard work and perseverance to better myself and those around me. 

I have and I am still building my own business from scratch. I had $100 (R10,000) to start my business and 2 years later I am still growing it although it is now has a net worth of over R100 000 ($1000). It may not sound like a lot to you but to me and those I do business with, Black, White and all the Other Races of this glorious world, it is worth more than you will ever know or appreciate.


Africa is strong and will be united while you squabble over the scraps of your failing economy and prejudice.

aztecian
aztecian

you wait in 10 years, africa will be the dominate economy in the world.  she will be poised to surpass china!

kevina1743
kevina1743

@david.axelrod AFRICA has billions of success stories, black people have been put down for the last 500 plus years but we are rising again

EmmanuelleGoldstein
EmmanuelleGoldstein

@aztecian Not by any stretch of the imagination. In 10 years, they will still be murdering each other and most will be starving. 

aztecian
aztecian

no, already lots of investment flowing in, china needs cheaper labor and this will give rise to a dominant africa at over a billion strong.  it will rise like china, but with more robust people.