AS South Africa and the whole world celebrate the life of anti-apartheid struggle hero Nelson Mandela, who passed on at 95 last Thursday, it is almost impossible to find anything else that hasn’t been said yet about his greatness.
He has been eulogised as an icon of peace and reconciliation who came to personify the struggle against oppression and injustice in our country, Africa and the world over.
Indeed, we will forever be indebted to the saintly Madiba for emerging from 27 years of imprisonment to bring down apartheid to make way for the multi-racial democracy that we enjoy today.
South Africa has achieved so much since the historic April 27 1994 elections that ushered in Mandela as the country’s first post-apartheid president and condemned to the dustbins of history a segregatory and oppressive era that for 350 years had dehumanised non-whites only because of their darker pigmentation.
Thanks to Mandela, we boast a constitution, adopted in 1996, that enshrines a wide range of social and economic rights as well as the more usual civil and political freedoms.
It outlaws discrimination not only on the grounds of race, gender, age and belief, but also of pregnancy, marital status, sexual orientation and culture.
Every one of South Africa’s 52 million people – including the brown and pink – is guaranteed equal protection under the law.
Today, the ANC government can proudly look back at its achievements since assuming the reins nearly two decades ago.
Economic growth has averaged 3.5 percent.
Millions of government-subsidised houses have been built for the poor.
Infrastructure has been improved and modernised, with electricity and telephone connections extended to previously disadvantaged communities.
While our government can cherish these milestones, we however believe our freedom ought to come with much more than South Africans of all colour and creed being able to use the same toilet or freely mix and mingle if they so wish.
The total freedom preached by Mandela and that we all deserve will remain a pipe dream as long as the majority of South Africans stay poor and unable to afford decent living.
For now, it can be a little uncomfortable for South Africa to be celebrating “freedom” when the majority of the people are not in control of their stomachs and health.
Unemployment and crime figures keep rising.
HIV and Aids continues to ravage mostly the poor.
Today, around nine million blacks still live in shacks without proper sanitation in poor crime-ridden townships or informal settlements.
Their schools and hospitals, if they have any, are in some cases in pathetic conditions.
Service delivery in most municipalities leaves a lot to be desired.
Corruption reeks from some public offices, with unashamed civil servants lining their pockets with taxpayers’ money.
Income disparities are still glaring especially along racial lines.
Yet it’s not only the non-whites who are frustrated with the situation.
Whites too feel they are being sidelined from jobs and lucrative contracts because of the government’s affirmative action policies which they say favour blacks.
Some of them complain about falling standards since the ANC took over in 1994.
With mistrust continuing between races, Mandela’s dream of a “rainbow nation” can only remain a mirage.
Indeed the work to repair the damage wrought by centuries of white supremacist rule is not impossible but it is harder than anyone can imagine.
It will only take a sincere, accountable, broad-minded, all-embracing and corruption-free government as well as everyone else’s efforts to achieve total freedom and a semblance of equality in South Africa.
And that can only be the best way to safeguard Mandela’s legacy.