South Africa at a crossroads, new chronicle of Mandela’s presidency looks back for guidance


Judy Woodruff: Now, a possible turning point in South Africa.

Its ruling party, the African National Congress, is expected to replace its leader, Jacob Zuma, this weekend. Whoever is chosen could also replace Zuma as the country's president in the 2019 general election.

But as Zuma and his party have been marred by accusations of corruption, some South Africans are reevaluating the legacy of the party's most famous member, Nelson Mandela.

With the recent release of a book on the life and words of Mandela, Jeffrey Brown has a special edition of the NewsHour Bookshelf from Johannesburg, South Africa.

Jeffrey Brown: Four years after his death, Nelson Mandela remains the larger-than-life symbol of historic change in South Africa, the man who led a liberation movement against the white apartheid regime from prison, before being released in 1990.

Now comes a new look at the political struggle that followed and Mandela's five years as president of a newly democratic nation.

Mandla Langa: I took on the project because I believed in the man, number one, and I respected him, but, much more importantly I felt that his words needed to be heard far and wide.

Jeffrey Brown: Mandla Langa, best known in South Africa as a novelist, worked from drafts Mandela himself wrote toward a never-finished memoir of his presidential years.

The result is "Dare Not Linger," partly Mandela's words, partly Langa's, presented as a sequel to Mandela's 1995 memoir, "Long Walk to Freedom," which sold some 14 million copies worldwide.

For Mandla Langa, this was personal. An activist in the anti-apartheid struggle, he was arrested in 1976 and spent years in exile.

Mandla Langa: Those years were rough, and those years were also full of despair. Mandela was the person that we looked to even when we were in the camps in Angola, when we were in the most horrific places. This was one name that kept us — that made us to keep the faith.

Jeffrey Brown: So, when you took on this project, was it frightening or daunting?

Mandla Langa: I had a dream, and in the dream, it was as if Mandela was telling me that I must not write nonsense. I must write his words, as it were, in the most correct form.

Jeffrey Brown: So he's admonishing you, get it — do it right?

Mandla Langa: He was admonishing me, do it right, get it right, yes.

Nelson Mandela: The promotion of the spirit of reconciliation and nation-building is something that we should all unite and try and achieve in our country.

Jeffrey Brown: Mandela faced infighting among black African factions and continued resistance from some white Afrikaners used to wielding power.

He spoke to the NewsHour's Charlayne Hunter-Gault in 1994 on the eve of his election to the presidency.

Nelson Mandela: The problem that we face today is that we are dealing with a group of men and women who are produced by apartheid, who can talk about democracy in a way different from what you and I understand by democracy.

We also had another tendency from the liberation movement of people who want to continue resisting, even at a time when we are preparing to govern. We have to reconcile those two tendencies.

Jeffrey Brown: The new book captures Mandela addressing internal problems while regularly meeting other leaders on the world stage.

Mandla Langa came to see Mandela, the political leader, as a strong, forceful presence.

Mandla Langa: There has been now and then that kind of imputation that he was just a figurehead. He was very, very hands-on from the very — at the very beginning.

He was alive to the fact that he needed to exert his own authority on the situation. When he dealt with the Afrikaner generals, he knew that this was a gamble, because, on the one hand, there was this crisis of expectation from the black people, that he has come out, he has got to lead us, and he must not sell us out.

Jeffrey Brown: And everything's going to get better quickly.

Mandla Langa: Quickly, yes.

Jeffrey Brown: Years later, it's clear that, while things got better for many, an economic apartheid persists for millions of blacks, and South Africa is regularly cited as one of the world's most unequal nations.

The new book comes out amid a renewed national debate over the nation's progress since its turn to democracy. Some we spoke to questioned whether Mandela's commitment to reconciliation came at too great a cost, and they see an unfulfilled legacy.

Mpho Matsipa: I think a lot was given away, and I think too much was given away.

Jeffrey Brown: Wits University lecturer Mpho Matsipa.

Mpho Matsipa: Many South Africans, including myself, imagined that the future would be one that is more just, where there isn't so much inequality, where inequality doesn't continue to be so racialized and gendered.

And so I think that current material realities are in themselves a testament to — or they are a challenge to that legacy.

Jeffrey Brown: But another view sees enormous progress against all odds, and the Mandela legacy fully intact.

Albie Sachs, a leading figure in the anti-apartheid struggle, helped write the country's new constitution and was appointed by Mandela to serve as a justice on the nation's highest court.

Albie Sachs: The institutions of democracy are functioning now. And they give the new generation, who are impatient with what they see as the slowness, the tardiness of change, who are demanding more rapid transformation, but they have got the weapons and the instruments to do that.

I would give three cheers, not one, not two, three cheers, maximum cheers, to Mandela and his generation for fulfilling their life's mission, which was to tear down apartheid and install democracy.

Jeffrey Brown: Amid this debate, author Mandla Langa thinks the timing is right for the new book on Mandela's years as president.

Mandla Langa: We are living in the most confusing time as South Africans, and I believe that we need to look back on where we were, what we were, and how we were.

And I think that those moments, that past, which made us the kind of people we are, a symbol of that past was Nelson Mandela.

Jeffrey Brown: With "Dare Not Linger," Langa hopes Mandela's words and deeds can continue to guide his country today.

For the PBS NewsHour, I'm Jeffrey Brown in South Africa.

Judy Woodruff: Fascinating.


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