Political analyst Ongama Mtimka, who is a lecturer and researcher at the Department of Politics and Conflict Studies at Nelson Mandela University, describes late former President Nelson Mandela as a man who stood for the true liberation of South Africans, particularly black South Africans in terms of their political rights, civil rights, and their ability to earn a living in the country.
Mtimka says, “Mandela sought to fight and ensure that both civic liberties and economic liberties were granted to people so that they can thrive and flourish equally in South Africa. He also believed in society of non-racialism; a society where people from all racial groups have a place.”
He adds, “If we are to look at how leaders from different political parties conducted themselves during
the times of struggles against the apartheid government, we were able to see the main objective and vision from all of them, which was to strive for a democratic South Africa.”
When askes about the state of politics in the country post-apartheid, Mtimka labels this phase as the “democratisation phase” which implies on the new institutions that were crafted on the backdrop of a society that was embroiled in violence.
He says this then created a mistrust across the political spectrum, so there needed to be leaders to instill back hope and show that there is still a possibility to craft a common nationhood despite the divisions endured in the time.
Mtimka adds, “As a result of that political environment which is uncertainty, Nelson Mandela and his generation of leaders needed to champion the vision of a South Africa that can be transformed to be truly inclusive, while at the same time attempting to assure those who both had political power and economic power at the time that they would not be alienated in the new South Africa.”
This particular era had political leaders such as Oliver Tambo, Robert Sobukwe, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Chris Hani, FW De Klerk, and Mangosuthu Buthelezi who on few occasions did not see eye to eye but would mainly share the same vision on the country’s democratisation.
Leaders more interested in political power and economic gain
When discussing the evolution of South African politics from the era of these abovementioned leaders with Mtimka, he highlighted hat a lot has changed within the political spectrum as now politics are more about power and economic gain rather than serving for the people of the country.
“I think, the phrase betrayal of a promise that was coiled by a research group in South Africa when they studied state capture best tells the reality in South Africa. Those with socioeconomic and political economic power in South Africa have the betrayed vision of a united South Africa in which everybody is able to earn a living at the same time have their political liberties respected,” Mtimka added.
“These are the political values that had initially been drafted to create a civil society in a country that is facing many issues which are headlined by racial segregation. As time moved on further into the democratisation phase, element of greed and abuse of power change the state of politics in South Africa.”
Mtimka adds that the betrayal of a promise is because South Africa has continued to work well for big businesses
and some white and black ‘elites’ while for the general citizens it has continued to reproduce inequality, unemployment, and poverty.
“Yes indeed, various aspects of the socio-economic life has changed for the better especially in the urban centres where you find that services that black people used to be excluded from are now being provided and there is no longer racial discrimination when it comes to who can excess what services, but racial discriminatory laws have been replaced largely by persistent inequality which assumes a racial character but has changed slightly to include the black ‘elite,’ in that sense then, things could be better. The biggest challenge is fact that South
Africa’s economy has de-industrialized and lots of entry level jobs and manufacturing jobs were not created at the required levels in order to keep country and the wide range of people meaningfully participating in the economy.”
Mtimka laments the uneven scale in the society as the rich get more rich and the poor get more poorer
in South Africa which is not what Nelson Mandela and leaders of his had visioned. This also provides evidence that there is already a huge shift in the ideology of current political leaders as compared to those who initially implemented the ideology of democracy.
It cannot be argued that Nelson Mandela played a vital role in the democratisation of the country and that did not only yield results on the side of civil rights, but it also came with political freedom. This then has put pressure on the preceding governments to maintain the same standards as Nelson Mandela’s era. However, different times come with different challenges, and this has been evident with the challenges that we are currently facing.
Mtimka elaborates on this matter and states that, “We live in an environment where democracy has consolidated the success that have resulted in in people demanding more from government performance and the private sector. So now we see this country that is becoming committed to democracy for its sake where you find that even voter behaviour is now beginning to shift away from a traditional favoured political party to voters being open to vote other political parties into power. We also have a decline of the dominant party system in South Africa in the terms of which the ANC is declining in its majority resulting in uncertainty in its likelihood to win elections in future. Theoretically, when we get that state, we will actually have a more accountable government but a lot messier in the sense that the decision making by government agencies be it parliament or local council or provincial legislature are going to be a lot more complex and tendencies toward deadlock are going to
Improvisations have been made by political leaders of the past and they left a legacy that needed to be carried by the current political leaders. In a way of trying to find inspiration, the challenges that Nelson Mandela had faced as a political leader should be taken as a point of reference to encounter recent issues.
Mtimka adds that, “My view is that come 2029 and the mid 2030s, our political system would consolidate again to something new that is better in terms of the ability of government or elected representatives to represent the people well.”
When asked whether current political leaders in South Africa truly emulate what Nelson Mandela stood for, Mtimka noted that Mandela stood for human factors such as liberation, civil rights, and equality, and that it is hard to pick that up from the current leaders. This is all based on the shift that the political spectrum has endured.
“In his era, Nelson Mandela and his fellow leaders dealt with issues in hand collectively regardless of the political party you represent, the motive was to get what is better for the people. With current political leaders, what matters to them is themselves, their political parties and entertain matters that fit their ideology with the aim of persuading voters.”
Mtimka concludes, “The current leaders in South Africa represent an era that has long gone, and the country is due for a wholescale leadership shift especially from a generational point of view. I think that those who fought for the struggle are clinging on to power despite the fact that they have been there since 1994, many of them. I think that we need a shake up as far as leadership is concerned, we need more people who are more committed to still doing something of virtue and greatness in South Africa compared to the majority of the people in leadership who feel that their prime was in the 70s and 80s.”