A decade ago today (December 5, 2013), former South African President Nelson Mandela breathed his last: a national hero, a symbol and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Almost 30 years have passed since Tata Madimba, as he was fondly called by South Africans, co-signed with Frederic de Klerk the end of apartheid by leading the country to democracy – raising hopes for a better future.

As the first democratically elected president of South Africa, Mandela founded the Rainbow Nation with the vision of a rule of law and with equality of opportunity as the cornerstone of an inclusive society: education for all, good health services and jobs, with the national priority interest.

But not much remains of Mandela’s legacy. “If Mandela were still alive, he would be deeply disillusioned with today’s conditions,” says sociologist Roger Southall of the University of the Witwaterstand in Johannesburg. “He would say that the government has lost its way.”

The end of the Rainbow vision

Mandela’s party, the African National Congress (ANC), which has ruled since 1994 with an absolute majority, has been increasingly destroying the country for three decades. Poverty, unemployment and crime are on the rise. The health and education systems are crumbling, while the government is a shambles of corruption, cronyism and incompetence. State-owned companies are going bankrupt and the ever-widening budget deficit is further exacerbating the economic crisis.

“Mandela’s dream of a non-racist society, which will provide for all and marginalize no one, has collapsed. In all areas we are taking steps backwards,” says William Gumente, president of the Democracy Works foundation – which is also reflected in youth unemployment, which exceeds 60%.

Mandela, a democrat through and through, served as president for five years. In 1999 he did not run for office, to give room to other members of the party. South Africans are divided over whether this was the right decision – because with Mandela’s departure political and economic conditions worsened.

His successor Tambo Beki denied that AIDS was caused by HIV and did not allow the distribution of AIDS drugs in South Africa. A decision that, according to Harvard research, caused the death of 330,000 citizens. Beki was succeeded by Jacob Zuma (2009-2018), who became synonymous with abuse of power. Zuma has repeatedly been on trial on charges of corruption, money laundering and fraud worth billions, with a possible prison sentence of up to 25 years. But to this day the trial is constantly postponed.

Systematic undermining of the state

When Cyril Ramaphosa took over as president in 2018, many hoped the 71-year-old would follow in Mandela’s footsteps and right the wrongs of the ANC. But it quickly became clear that Ramaphosa was unable to take the necessary decisions against the powerful structures of the ANC – whose members continued to enrich themselves at the expense of the state.

In his book After Dawn, former Deputy Finance Minister Mkebisi Jonas (2014-2016) describes South Africa as a country constantly being destroyed by the ruling elite, where “corruption is rampant, the operation and the legitimacy of the state is undermined, investor confidence and therefore the volume of investment is reduced, the economy is stagnant, unemployment is rising and, due to the unequal distribution of income and wealth, social frictions are intensifying.”Instead of promoting an inclusive economic development, the ruling faction is turning to populism, writes Jonas. Jackie Cilliers, a political analyst in Pretoria, agrees: “The ANC has done significant damage to the country. This is a tragedy. South Africa is in a deep crisis.”

South Africa’s biggest problem is no longer black-white conflict, but growing economic injustice. It is the country with the largest gap between rich and poor in the world, according to the World Bank – home to the “Black Diamonds”, millionaire black businessmen and politicians, at a time when youth unemployment affects mainly black people.

Mandela as an ace up the government’s sleeve

So far the frustration of South Africans has not been reflected in the election results: since 1994 the ANC has ruled with an absolute majority. But this could change in the 2024 elections: the ANC may well remain in power, but it may be forced for the first time to form alliances with smaller factions.

The government holds Mandela as an ace up its sleeve, whose work is cited both domestically and internationally. Although all of the country’s political indicators are in the red, many turn a blind eye, desperately clinging to the belief that South Africa is the most progressive country on the continent, a country where there is still an appetite for reform and innovation. “But in reality Mandela’s ideals have been ignored for a long time,” Southall points out.

South Africa has enormous potential for development – ​​rich in diamonds, gold, platinum, manganese and uranium, with a robust private sector and institutional system. However, “the ANC unfortunately does not want to invest in real drivers of development, such as good infrastructure, education and health services,” Cilliers says. Only one thing remains: the hope that a new Mandela will soon emerge from the ANC. Or at least an ambitious politician, who will act in the interest of the people.