Mandela: the unfulfilled promise of the rainbow nation

Daniel Adawa

Daniel Adawa is a professor at the Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria

Leadership failure in Africa continues to define Africa as the preeminent disaster region of the world, still at this late hour dependent on donor aid despite its enormous resources. Recent events in South Sudan and the Central African Republic are only the more dramatic face of Africa in crisis.

In the middle of the last century at the start of his public career as a freedom fighter Mandela saw the African predicament as a democracy problem. Mandela may not have recognized this, but this was no less than a leadership issue.

At the time Africa was, from west to east, from north to south, ruled by greedy foreign powers that ruthlessly exploited the population and the rich resources of the land. In his own native South Africa a brutal white minority tribe was in power promoting white minority privileges on the back and sweat of the black majority of the land. Earlier leadership problems in Africa had permitted Africa to be overrun by imperial powers. Africa could not mobilize its own defenses even against slave raiders and slave traders.

At his Rovenia treason trial in 1964 Mandela swore he would fight oppression and domination regardless of the color or the complexion of the perpetrators. It was as though Mandela had looked through the mirror glass and foresaw the rise of the many tyrants that abound in Africa today.

In any case Mandela foresaw the problem that can arise for a minority within a democracy and worked towards a new definition of democracy. Today there are many minority tribes in Africa whose rights are brutally crashed. Mandela saw as a cardinal tenet of democracy the protection of the rights of a minority within majority rule. For South Africa this raised the issue of how to deal with a history that hugely favored one group against the other. As he negotiated the end to apartheid Mandela did not adequately address this issue.

Consequently today the challenge in South Africa is how to empower and ensure the upward mobility of the still marginalized black majority while at the same time guaranteeing human rights for the historically privileged white minority whose continued participation in the country’s economy and cultural life is essential.

While South Africa has mercifully avoided the tragic path taken in neighboring Zimbabwe, the criminal shooting down last year of scores of unharmed miners engaged in peaceful protests, is only one indicator that the new South Africa has yet to rise up to its promise as a rainbow nation.