Race relations at crossroads in Mandela’s South Africa
As a country that emerged from years of racial segregation, South Africa is often lauded for its reconciliation efforts, but cracks in the foundation of Nelson Mandela’s ‘Rainbow Nation’ are starting to show.
In the 25 years since the late anti-apartheid hero’s release from prison on February 11, 1990, South Africa has had to confront the realities of its divided past.
It has not been easy, and race remains a dividing factor despite the efforts of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which sought to help heal the wounds.
A recent spike in race-tinged comments from the public and political leaders alike has raised questions about the country’s ability to fully reconcile with its history, and the extent of apartheid-era divisions in the public psyche.
“The reconciliation project is in trouble,” said Verne Harris, director of research and archives at the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
Perhaps South Africans “tried to reckon with our pasts too quickly”, he said, referring to the TRC, which focused on politically-motivated crimes during traumatic hearings which began in 1996. “Some countries can wait. Even 20 years. We could not wait,” he said, adding that the old schisms in society had resurfaced.
The renaming this month of a Cape Town street in honour of the country’s last white apartheid-era leader, FW de Klerk, was met with protests by some in the black community who queried his role in bringing about change in South Africa.
De Klerk is credited with releasing Mandela from prison and dismantling apartheid laws, leading him to share a Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela in 1993.
Black critics, however, point to the role of De Klerk’s government in atrocities even in the dying days of apartheid.
In a speech on the renaming, De Klerk referred to the “new, bitter and confrontational tone in the national discourse” as the antithesis of everything that Mandela worked for during his time as president.
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