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South Africa: Mandela name pulled into politics

Last Updated: Monday, May 20, 2013 - 23:45

Johannesburg: Nelson Mandela, old and frail, lives in seclusion in his Johannesburg home. Beyond the high walls of the house, the fighting over his image and what he stood for has already begun.

The sense of possibility that Mandela embodied is fading as a gulf between rich and poor widens. Many South Africans believe their leaders are out to help themselves and not the nation, which showed such promise when it broke the shackles of apartheid by holding the first all-race elections in 1994 and putting Mandela, who had been jailed for 27 years by the country`s racist leaders, into the presidency.

In a remarkable achievement, South Africa has held peaceful elections since the end of apartheid. But it is struggling on other fronts.

Last year, corruption deprived the country of nearly USD 111 million in taxpayers` money, according to a recent report.

In one of the latest scandals to shake South Africans` confidence in their government, authorities let a chartered plane carrying about 200 guests from India land at a South African air force base ahead of a lavish wedding hosted by a politically connected family.

South Africans, worried about graft, high unemployment and other problems, tend to compare their current leadership with the virtually unassailable record of Mandela as a freedom fighter and South Africa`s first black president. No small wonder, then, that politicians and even family members are moving to use that image for their own benefit.

Mandela no longer speaks publicly. He retired after a single term as president that ended in 1999 then worked for some years as an advocate for peace, awareness for HIV/AIDS and other causes. His last public appearance on a major stage was in 2010, when South Africa hosted the soccer World Cup.

Last month, President Jacob Zuma and other leaders of the ruling African National Congress party visited Mandela. After the encounter at Mandela`s home, Zuma cheerily said the 94-year-old was up and about, in good spirits and doing well. But the images carried by state TV showed Mandela sitting with a blanket covering his legs, silent and unmoving with his cheeks showing what appear to be marks from a recently removed oxygen mask. Mandela did not acknowledge Zuma, who sat right next to Mandela.

The footage unsettled some viewers who considered the visit to be a stunt to make Zuma look good. A cartoon in The Star newspaper depicted a leering Zuma holding a clothes hanger from which the once robust Mandela dangled limply, eyelids sagging. The ANC insisted it had no ulterior motive ahead of elections next year, and that it was only showing respect for a living national treasure.


First Published: Monday, May 20, 2013 - 23:45
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