There were many contenders, but the contest for the act that best sanctified the memory of Nelson Mandela was won by the handshake of Barack Obama and Raul Castro. That two such men could, but for a moment, be so cordial and content with one another attests to how he was regarded by so many sides. The eulogies and the emotions expressed by South Africans of all colours exhibited how much Mandela did for his people.
Unfortunately there were other acts that contended to show the still shambolic reality that faces so many South Africans, twenty years after the end of apartheid. That contest was won by Thamsanqa Jantjie, the now infamous sign language interpreter who didn't so much sign but gesticulate, as if he were some cider-filled teen attempting to crudely mimic sign language for a laugh. In one way it was an apt act; what Nelson Mandela dreamed for South Africa has been poorly translated by those entrusted to do so.
Of course, such was Jantjie's sham, the ANC sought to immediately distance themselves from him. However, the sheer incompetence of the governing party was impossible to hide last week. Mistakes were repeatedly made, from the memorial service to the funeral cortege, where South Africans were unable to pay their due respects as had been promised. Such a shambles, where promises weren't met, should not be a surprise to many, not least to those who have followed South African politics, not least to those who have worked with the ANC.
Last year I worked with the ANC for a week as they hosted the 2012 Congress of The Socialist International in Cape Town. It was a week that didn't so much fill me with hope for the country's future but emptied me of it. Despite dignitaries from dozens of countries being present, including several heads of state, the ANC rank and file demonstrated an incompetence that one wouldn't even expect of the organisers of a church fete, let alone a major political conference.
Promises they made to me and others were rarely met. As a journalist I try to avoid cliché but I find myself struggling not to say that the ANC couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery. The men seemed to suffer from the same lethargy so common among parties beset by cronyism (much like Ireland's Fianna Fail)-the kind of men that like to lean and laugh and not much else.
Jobs for the boys was another cliché that sprung to mind as the ANC attempted to stop prior arrangements with third parties to deal with people they prefer, 'people they know'. Their constant referrals to one another as 'comrade' did little to divorce the perception of a party unfit for a modern purpose. Were it not for the efforts of a few conscientious and industrious women within the ANC the Congress would likely not have taken place.
Inference can be made from such experience and thus it's not hard to see why South Africans still suffer so much. In spite of modern infrastructure and an abundance of mineral resources the lives of many South Africans are hardly any better since the end of apartheid. Unemployment is in excess of 25% and almost half the population (47%) lives below the poverty line.
Senior ANC members are accused of corrupt dealings with big business; funnelling state money into ANC coffers; and being generally profligate in state spending. The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) estimates that the current ANC government has wasted in excess of $350 million on luxury hotels, car rentals and other 'waste', money which could have paid for more than 70,000 houses. The ANC may talk like good Socialists but they don't act like it.
Many of the young South Africans I talked to held Mandela in esteem and the ANC in disdain. For them, there is no cognitive dissonance there, Mandela and the modern ANC are not the same. It is a view that is not just shared among the young, but the old too, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who in 2011 threatened to pray for the demise of the ANC. For them Mandela's torch is carried elsewhere, possibly by Helen Zille and the DA.
The Premier of Western Cape and anti-apartheid activist is affectionately known as 'Aunty' Helen and is a staunch opponent of Zuma. While the DA will not likely succeed the ANC in the immediate future, support for it is growing, to the ANC's loss. Whether the ANC reforms or the DA and others supersede them, there will likely be change for the better in South Africa, Mandela's legacy demands it. It'll likely be slow, but there is at least some cause for hope that Mandela's 'long walk' while longer than expected, may one day be finally finished.