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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – Seldom does an event affect a single nation as profoundly as has the death of Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa.
In the streets of the country’s Gauteng Province, home to both the capital, Pretoria, and its largest city, Johannesburg, Mr. Mandela’s image and name are everywhere: signs, banners, posters, T-shirts, stickers. He smiles from the covers of countless magazines, ranging from the most influential weeklies and monthlies to a local used car listing on a gas station counter in Free State, south of Gauteng.
Billboards and bus stop ads read, “Thank you Tata” (a South African equivalent of “daddy”). Another proclaims, “‘It’s now in Your Hands’ – Thank You Madiba” (the name of Mr. Mandela’s clan and an honorary title for clan elders).
Scanning through television stations in the days following his funeral, tribute pieces fill many channels, alternating with the national pastimes of cricket, rugby and golf. Both the memorial service and the funeral drew large audiences and have been broadcast repeatedly. Even sports channels are running their own specials on the event, many focusing on Mr. Mandela’s use of rugby to promote racial harmony at the 1995 World Cup. And when the programming is unrelated to Mr. Mandela, the corner of the screen often features a graphic: “Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013.”
For the media, failure to acknowledge the event carried consequences: a Cape Town newspaper editor was fired when the paper did not run a story on Mr. Mandela the morning after his death.
A widely publicized embarrassment in the memorial service involved a sign language interpreter who clearly was not using any known signing system. Repeated attempts to access an American video parody of the incident, using a variety of websites, consistently led to this message: “This video is not available in your location. Please select another clip.”
After Mr. Mandela’s funeral, the official national mourning period ended. Flags were raised from half-staff to top of staff, and officials unveiled a 30-foot bronze statue of Mr. Mandela in front of the Union (capitol) Buildings, its arms outstretched toward Pretoria’s skyline.
This kind of admiration—even adoration—of a public figure is stunning to a visiting Westerner accustomed to open criticism, ridicule and disrespect of politicians, left, right and center.
Now that Mr. Mandela is gone, what is next for South Africa?
After retreating from public life in 2004, Mr. Mandela seldom spoke publicly. It is hard to determine how he viewed the present-day results of the national changes he helped spearhead decades ago.
But after the eulogies are archived and the news cycle moves on, South Africans—black and white—must face the condition of their country as it is, not “as it can be” (in the carefully chosen words of an American commentator, speaking of Mr. Mandela’s legacy).
A summary from the Philippines’ GMA News paints a picture: “…the future of the country for whom Mandela would have died appears to be unsettled.
“The breakdown of peace and order is the primary concern. Almost everyone that I have spoken to here has been a victim of a violent crime: a consul and his wife whose room at a bed and breakfast in the good part of town was broken into, a UN official robbed at gun-point, an elderly Filipina who was hogtied by robbers who broke into her house.
“Senior diplomats have not been spared, triggering security concerns for [Philippine] Vice-President Jejomar Binay’s security who moves around town with only a handful of security personnel. There was the Thai diplomat whose vehicle was hijacked in broad daylight, the Uruguayan Ambassador whose diplomatic residence was broken into. Mrs. Yoko Ramos, our Ambassador’s wife, says that the security concern in genteel Pretoria is so bad that her ‘four-year-old daughter and her yaya [nanny] do not venture into the secure garden of the Philippine Ambassador’s residence’ already located in the best part of town.”
A typical middle-class dwelling here features a metal fence topped by sharp “devil’s fork” attachments, often with loops of barbed wire at the corners and near any tree on a property’s perimeter. Inside, two locking metal gates precede the front door; another swings from the end of a hallway that leads to the bedrooms. All interior doors are metal and include deadbolts. Motion detectors blink from many corners and all windows are covered with metal “burglar bars.” A perfect illustration of why these measures are seen as necessary: Archbishop Desmond Tutu, another prominent anti-apartheid figure and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, had his house burglarized—while attending the Mandela memorial service.
Statistics back these anecdotes on a number of fronts:
Whether this is the type of environment that Mr. Mandela envisioned for his people is obvious. As is so often the case in human history, the gap between aspirations and achievements can be discouraging.
In his autobiography, he wrote, “I am fundamentally an optimist.” While reconciling optimism with day-to-day harsh realities can be difficult in South Africa—and in any nation, depending on time and place—there is a real reason for optimism and hope for the future.
All of the trends above will eventually be reversed and eliminated, and the solutions for entrenched problems will be realized!
To find out how, order Real Truth Editor-in-Chief David C. Pack’s book Tomorrow’s Wonderful World – An Inside View! In it, you will learn that the Bible, seen nearly everywhere in South Africa, but little understood, lays out a plan for these solutions—to be enacted soon!