Africa in Transition usually runs an update of the Nigeria Security Tracker on Mondays. However, July 18 is Nelson Mandela Day, so the Tracker update will appear on Tuesday, July 19.
Nelson Mandela was born July 18, 1918. He died in 2013; were he living, he would be 98 years of age.
In 2009, the UN General Assembly officially declared July 18 Nelson Mandela International Day, starting 2010. It is the celebration of Mandela’s theme that each individual has the ability and responsibility to change the world for the better. In South Africa, Mandela Day is not a public holiday. Instead, it is intended to honor Mandela’s values of inclusive democracy conducted according to the rule of law and to celebrate his public service.
Mandela Day is also an occasion for taking stock of where South Africa is and where it is going. Many of Mandela’s colleagues in the struggle against apartheid and for nonracial democracy believe that under the administration of Jacob Zuma, the country has gone astray. Zuma is mired in scandal and surrounded by cronies of dubious reputation. It is widely said, even within his governing African National Congress (ANC), that he uses intimidation, even blackmail, against his political opponents within the party. His governance decisions are increasingly quixotic, notably his effort to replace a respected finance minister with a crony. Markets swooned and he failed.
More broadly, the consequences of three centuries of white supremacy, culminating in apartheid, still rest heavy on South Africa. There has been social and economic progress since the 1994 coming of nonracial democracy, but it has been slow. For many, perhaps most black South Africans, some 80 percent of the population, there has been too little change.
However, I argue in Morning in South Africa, released last month, that South Africa’s institutions of governance (based on perhaps the world’s most respected constitution) are continuing to strengthen; this is because these institutions of governance are conducted according to the rule of law with an independent judiciary and defended by civil society and a free press. Notably, the judiciary regularly rules against the Zuma administration, and its decisions are upheld. Even though the ANC has an overwhelming majority of seats in parliament, a vigorous opposition ensures that it is no Zuma rubber-stamp. The so-called “Chapter 9” (of the Constitution) institutions continue to impose limits on what the Zuma administration can do. Democracy conducted according to the rule of law enjoys strong support from South Africans across the racial rainbow.
Democracies sometimes go through patches of bad, even criminal governance. We Americans remember the last days of Richard Nixon’s administration. And former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director J. Edgar Hoover was no stranger to intimidation and blackmail. Democratic institutions, the rule of law, and active civil society have carried the United States through dark days in the past and will do so now in South Africa.