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Another new dawn for the rainbow nation?

In 1994, Nelson Mandela won the South African election in a decisive victory, signalling the end of institutionalised racial segregation and the beginning of a more inclusive and democratic political system. Thirty years on, South African reporter Kay-Dee Mashile does a pulse check on the mood of the nation in the lead up to its 2024 election.  

It's been 30 years since Nelson Mandela was named the first democratically elected president of the Republic of South Africa in April 1994. Not only was he the first Black president in the history of the country; he was the people’s president elected by all South Africans of voting age. He was the first president to come out of the anti-apartheid movement, the African National Congress, which then became the ruling party for the next 30 years.

Back in the day, the ANC government was a symbol of hope to South Africans of all shades and backgrounds. Moreover, the Mandela presidency announced a new horizon of freedom and the beginning of a long pursuit for equality. While South Africa has come a long way since then, there remains a long way to go to see the country reach the ideals and dreams that Nelson Mandela and his comrades had for the rainbow nation.

It would be hypocritical of me, a Black girl from a rural village, to claim that the ANC government has completely failed while I sit in what used to be a Whites-only neighbourhood using my university education from a previously Afrikaans institution to write to the world about the democracy I have known since birth.

All this is to say that there have indeed been many strides made.

However, notwithstanding that we are still recovering from a global pandemic, South Africa is sitting at what could be the biggest political tipping point since the end of apartheid. From education to health to safety, predominantly Black and Coloured communities are still struggling to catch up with what used to be Whites-only areas. The standard of services and the delivery thereof is simply not equal or equitable. Moreover, young people are increasingly struggling to find work- even those with university degrees and even higher qualifications. Not to mention the high cost that these qualifications come at, even at state-owed public universities.

Coupled with corruption and the mismanagement of public funds, these issues have rendered young people apathetic towards voting. The youth seem to have lost trust and respect for the government. On the other hand, the older generation that had pledged their loyalty to Nelson Mandela and his comrades have increasingly voiced out their disappointment over the current state of the nation- some even saying that it is as though the sacrifice was in vain.

As things stand, South Africa’s 7th democratic election is looming with less than six months to go. Meanwhile, the nation has lost most (if not all) the iconic struggle heroes to whom many people felt as though they owed allegiance for the role they played in ending apartheid.

On the other hand, we are sitting with a large youth population that has not been partaking in electoral processes due to a growing lack of trust and apathy towards the government. What does this mean for the rainbow nation? Will this be the biggest election since 1994? Will South Africa see the first transfer of power since gaining its democracy? Or will the legacy continue for yet another term? I wish I knew the answers!

But, one thing is for sure, the rainbow nation is at the brink of a new dawn.