It has been a few days since former President Nelson Mandela passed away at his Houghton, Johannesburg home last Thursday. His family was with him during his last hours, among them his third wife Graca Machel whom he married after his divorce from Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. The mood on the streets of South Africa has been very sombre since President Jacob Zuma made the announcement about Mandela’s passing.
However, there is a rumble of emotion masked by the feelings of loss. This is evident when speaking to some foreigners who feel that their future in South Africa is uncertain after the death of the ‘Father of Democracy’. The country has on-going, irregular episodes of xenophobic violence which are particularly prevalent in the Western Cape where there are many Somalian shop owners. There are foreigners who believe that the death of the man who symbolised African unity might leave them vulnerable.
The presidency declared Sunday, 8 December a day of meditation, prayer and remembrance for the first black president of South Africa. Despite numerous programmes and events planned around the country and indeed the rest of the world, there were some places where it seemed that they had completely missed the announcement about Madiba’s passing; life goes on as normal.
In Mahikeng and Rustenburg in the North West, posters of Mandela and other commemorative items were visibly missing. This is contrary to the scenes around Gauteng, the Western Cape and as expected, the Eastern Cape.
On social networks, there are those who acknowledge the death of the former president with regret for the fact that despite putting an end to apartheid, the government of Mandela did not prioritise securing economic freedom for previously disadvantaged people, primarily black people. Twenty years after the first democratic elections in South Africa, the gap between the rich and the poor has widened.
There are people who still do not have access to basic services such as clean water and sanitation. This lack of basic services fuels frequent strike action and protest marches in South Africa. Though many people place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the current government, there are those who feel that Mandela failed to set the tone for the restoration of dignity for black people in South Africa.
Regardless of these issues, the fact remains; the greatest and most popular politician of the 21st century is no more and for the next few days, the focus is in ensuring that his funeral proceeds smoothly and with dignity. For now, South Africans have put all other pressing issues, like the Nkandlagate saga, on the back burner until the funeral has passed and all the formalities are observed. Nelson Mandela will be buried at his Qunu home in Eastern Cape on 15 December.