7 Dec 2013

Could Mandela’s death reignite racial tensions?

It is almost 20 years since Nelson Mandela became the first black president of South Africa – but could his death cause the rainbow nation he created to tear apart at the seams?

Several weeks ago, a Channel 4 News documentary showed an Afrikaans summer school preaching racial separation and training teenagers for a race war. The leaders, talking in 2013, spoke the language of segregationist racism that defined the apartheid regime.

“You’ve got these millions and millions of blacks around you. Smothering you and killing you,” leader Colonel Franz Jooste said.

“So you have to implement certain systems to survive. And that’s why we say the only system that we can go now for is not apartheid – that’s second prize. The first prize is freedom. We want to be free.”

“There’s a conflict between white people and black people in this country,” A leader says: “Why is there a conflict? Number one: there’s an external conflict. We look different. We don’t look the same as each other.”

“They have thick lips. Their lips are likely to curl upwards. Okay? We have thin lips. The negroes’ ears on the inside are totally different from ours. It’s much more sensitive.”

End of the Rainbow Nation?

South Africans speaking on Friday discussed their fears about the dissolution of the rainbow nation after its great figurehead, Nelson Mandela, had died.

“It’s not going to be good, hey! I think it’s going to become a more racist country. People will turn on each other and chase foreigners away,” said Sharon Qubeka, 28, a secretary from Tembisa township as she headed to work in Johannesburg.

“Mandela was the only one who kept things together,” she told a Reuters journalist.

“I feel like I lost my father, someone who would look out for me. Already, as a black person with no connections, you are disadvantaged,” said Joseph Nkosi, 36, a security guard from Alexandra township in Johannesburg.

Referring to Mandela by his clan name, he added: “Now, without Madiba, I feel like I don’t have a chance. The rich will get richer and simply forget about us. The poor don’t matter to them. Look at our politicians, they are nothing like Madiba.”

A few facts from the 2011 census underline the problems:

  • nearly 30 per cent of the labour force is unemployed
  • the income of white South African households is six times higher than black ones. The average annual income of a white household is about 365,000 rand (£21,600), for a black household 60,600 rand (£3,600)
  • The number of people who have completed higher education has increased, but only to 11.8 per cent, from 8.4 per cent in 2001
  • More than 3 million children (nearly 4 per cent) are orphans

Failing education

And a serious problem that South Africa faces is that its education system – one of a country’s great engines of equalisation – is failing on a grand scale.

The country is the worst performer in maths and science education in the world. World Economic Forum

The country is the worst performer in maths and science education in the world, according to the World Economic Forum, coming behind all other African countries listed. The country ranked at 146th out of 148 countries for the overall quality of its education.

The forum’s 2013-14 report listed “an inadequately educated workforce” as the most problematic factor of doing business in South Africa. Poverty affects access to healthcare, justice and life quality for the country’s 40 million black people.

Sun will rise tomorrow

But though the country has many problems, a resurgence of apartheid-scale racism is not one of them, Archbiship Desmond Tutu said today.

He is one of many who has spoken to quell suggestions that the death of Mandela will tear apart the country. It has been 15 years since Mandela was been directly involved in public life, and the country has survived.

“What’s going to happen to us now that our father has died? Does it spell doomsday disaster for us?” Archbishop Tutu asked at a sermon on Friday. “Some have suggested that after he’s gone, our country is going to go up in flames.”

I hear stories that my parents tell me and I’m just shocked that such a country could exist. Daniel Lowry

Archbishop Tutu said this was meant to discredit South Africans and discredit Mandela’s legacy. “The sun will rise tomorrow and the next day and the next. It may not appear as bright as yesterday, but life will carry on.”

He said his message to South Africans was to follow in Mandela’s footsteps. “For the past 24 years, Madiba taught us how to come together and believe in ourselves and each other, a unifier from the moment he walked out of prison.”

A different South African could not even imagine a return to the world that existed before Nelson Mandela.

16-year-old Michael Lowry has no memory of the apartheid system that ended in 1994, and for him Mandela’s legacy means he can have non-white friends. He attended two schools where Mandela’s grandchildren were also students.

“I hear stories that my parents tell me and I’m just shocked that such a country could exist. I couldn’t imagine just going to school with just white friends,” Lowry said.