Nelson Mandela’s legacy in South Africa today: the responsibility of the ‘born-free’ generation - Auslandsbüro New York
UN Agora Blog
Nelson Mandela’s legacy in current South Africa emerges from his almost inimitable dedication to improving the lives of all South Africans. Although this aspiration remains largely unfulfilled, his inspiration still resonates with many South Africans.
Democratic South Africa has achieved undeniable gains such as the right to vote, basic education, and primary health care; the introduction of an extensive social security system that has lifted many people out of poverty; the provision of affordable housing and basic services to millions. However, it is common knowledge that true prosperity remains lost in the quagmire of social, economic, and political challenges confronting South Africa today.
The national unemployment rate stands at 34,5%. South Africa remains the most unequal country in the world, with 10% of the population owning more than 80% of the wealth. South Africans are also struggling with the rising cost of living and rolling blackouts in the form of ‘load-shedding’.
Furthermore, the country is still reeling from the capture of the state during the Jacob Zuma presidency, which is estimated to have cost the country well over R50 billion. State capture is a significant stain on the legacy of Mandela who, in his inaugural speech in 1994, pronounced that “never, never and never again”. Although Mandela was referring to the oppression of one another, not corruption, inherent in his declaration was an accountable government that serves all South Africans. This promise was declared in our constitution which ensures that the law protects all our people against abuse of power, against the indignity of discrimination, and against the oppression of one citizen by another. Thus it is to the great pain of South Africans that 28 years later, this pledge had to be reiterated by our current President, asserting that state capture should “never be allowed to happen again”.
In 2021, public trust in institutions and representatives reached a new low. Many ‘born-free’ youths have become despondent, feeling betrayed that their promises of Mandela have not been kept.
However, it was always going to be difficult to overcome the injustices and inequalities wrought by apartheid within one generation. Rather Mandela's legacy lies in the acknowledgment that this is what the South African people deserve and should aspire to.
In 2008, Nelson Mandela noted that “It is now in the hands of your generations to help rid the world of such suffering”.
As we celebrate the living legacy of the great eponym of Mandela Day, the youth of South Africa ought to reflect on our responsibility to honor his legacy and further his aspiration for a better South Africa for all. We should remember that with rights come responsibilities.
In South Africa’s last election, out of the nearly 1.8 million 18-19 year-olds who were eligible to vote, only 10% registered. As the ‘born-free’ generation, we need to alter this trend in 2024 by exercising our right to vote.
Concerningly, it has been reported that 67% of South Africans would be willing to give up elections if a non-elected government could provide security, housing, and jobs. Nelson Mandela said in 1992 “without democracy, there cannot be peace”.
It is beyond doubt that Mandela’s vision and promise of a peaceful, free, and prosperous South Africa remain distant. Nonetheless, on this Mandela Day, South Africans should reflect on their constitutional right and responsibility, to rechart South Africa’s course towards prosperity through democratic elections. This right remains a significant legacy of Mandela and ought not to be taken for granted.
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