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Many South Africans revere Mandela. What about the political party he left behind?


Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first democratically elected president, looms over his country's history.


When he died on this day 10 years ago at the age of 95, he was known to the world as a visionary leader. And at home in South Africa, he was often called by his clan name, Madiba, as a gesture of affection and respect. But the legacy of the man who helped pull the nation out from under the shadow of apartheid is still being debated.

INSKEEP: Kate Bartlett is following that debate from Johannesburg. Welcome.


INSKEEP: OK, so this happens in the United States. Historical figures look different to different generations. We look at different aspects of their lives. So what is happening with Nelson Mandela's legacy?

BARTLETT: By most people, I'd say he's still generally revered. But there is a small vocal group, mainly people on university campuses, young people who call him a sellout. Hard to believe after he spent 27 years of his life in jail for a cause, Black liberation, and achieved that cause. But they say he should have done more after the end of apartheid to increase Black economic clout in South Africa and say he was too concerned with being conciliatory. Of course, his supporters point out that he did this to avoid a civil war. Most of the people I spoke to while reporting the story are grateful Mandela brought them freedom but angry at how politicians then wasted the opportunities they had to make their lives better. They're angry at the huge unemployment rates, a power crisis that sees almost daily blackouts, constant news stories about government graft.

INSKEEP: Oh, they're thinking about what came after liberation. And is some of the blame going to Mandela's party, the African National Congress?

BARTLETT: Absolutely. I would say his once-storied ANC is definitely in trouble. The ANC, as you know, has been in power since the end of apartheid, enjoying huge popularity as the liberation party. But now analysts are actually predicting it will be punished at the polls next year. And many blame former president Jacob Zuma, who was one of Mandela's successors, for that because under his watch, extensive corruption occurred. There was a huge surge of hope when the current president, Cyril Ramaphosa, was elected. He promised to clean things up. But he's been a disappointment to many in being slow to act and putting party before country. Of course, the ANC still trades on Mandela's legacy for their own electoral benefit...


BARTLETT: ...As does pretty much every other political party in South Africa, all asking, what would Mandela do? Justice Malala, a South African author of the book "The Plot To Save South Africa" - in his view, the ANC is now seen as a party of, as he puts it, dishonesty and corruption.

JUSTICE MALALA: Many in South Africa regard the ANC as the antithesis of Mandela. No matter how much the party attempts to burnish its name using Mandela's image, the public just isn't buying it anymore.

BARTLETT: The real test will be at general elections next year. It will be 30 years since the first democratic vote. And numerous polls are predicting the ANC will lose its majority for the first time and have to enter a coalition government.

INSKEEP: Is daily life better 30 years after the end of apartheid?

BARTLETT: Well, it's a nuanced question. Many South Africans still live in dire poverty. Money lost to corruption could have bettered the lives of millions. But ultimately, all adult South Africans now have the vote and can vote out their government. And they're equal under the law, regardless of race. So in that sense, yes, it's a resounding yes.

INSKEEP: Kate Bartlett in Johannesburg, thanks so much.

BARTLETT: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Kate Bartlett
[Copyright 2024 NPR]