PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — Nelson Mandela is gone, but many mourners waiting patiently for a chance to see Mandela for a last time on Thursday said they retain high hopes about South Africa’s future. If the heady optimism of the days when South Africa’s peaceful transformation to an all-race democracy in the 1994 elections has been diminished by time and economic challenges, many still believe the years ahead can be fruitful, with growing opportunity.
Still, there is fear that Mandela’s passing might open a door to unrest, clashes and possibly worse. And there are serious concerns about youth unemployment, crime and persistent poverty.
These are the profiles and thoughts of some of the mourners who waited in tremendously long lines to see their anti-apartheid hero.
AKUM JULIUS ACHEM, a quality controller at a company that builds boilers and other equipment, is hoping there is little change in the country he has lived in for 10 years. But the Cameroonian worries about South Africans rejecting Africans from other countries who come here seeking work.
“There are a lot of rumors that after death of Madiba (Mandela’s clan name) a lot of things are going to change. But for the past 20 years South Africa has been becoming more mature in in its democracy, so I don’t foresee changes.
“There is still a lot of hurtness in the black community, as I can see, you can see the grievances. But the majority are seeking education. When people are educated, they really know what is a brother or a sister from another country. Education is the main thing. The more education South Africans get, the more they will behave. Education is the key point.
“My worry is about the xenophobia. That is the worry. It started when he (Mandela) was alive. If that word could be erased, the worry would be out also.”
CHETNA KALIAN, a teacher in a school near Pretoria, is a Hindu who is very enthused about South Africa’s future but concerned that violence could break out again. She was in line with her two daughters, who shared her optimism about the future.
“All we can hope for is that people stick to Mandela’s principles. I have lived through the apartheid era. I have been telling my daughters what we were and weren’t allowed to do and they were quite amazed because they didn’t know what it’s been like. All we can pray for is that we don’t have a war breaking out. People have been liberated, and they are living very nicely, so let’s hope and pray that things go on the way they are at the moment. Let’s hope now things don’t turn around now that he’s gone. You never know, the younger generation, what could be going through their minds.”
HAYLEY HOLTZHAUSEN is a diversity manager at a petrochemical company who worries about South Africa’s pervasive crime but feels society will keep making progress in the coming years.
“Mandela’s dream was of togetherness, that we can all live together and work together in unity. There’s been quite a bit of transformation in the last 19 years. Now if you look at the workplace there are opportunities for all races and genders, and also your schools, and opportunities provided for everyone. It’s the equality that has grown and will grow, most definitely. People are pulling together. Companies are realizing that this is what’s needed. We need to work together as one country.
“I think the crime stands out as number one (worry) for me. That it is just everywhere and every day. This is all part of the current unemployment that we are sitting with.”
JEREMIAH SIKHOSANA left his position with a telecoms company six months ago to start a consulting service. The 46-year-old is struggling to get his new business off the ground, but he believes his future — and that of South Africa — is sound. Economic growth, he believes, will solve a host of ills, including the xenophobia that has seen some South Africans clash with immigrants from other African countries.
“My business is very tough right now. It’s not the best time to venture out on your own, when the economy is flat. Consulting is a service business, and a lot of companies are cutting back on that. … There are still a lot of economic problems. Growth is less than 2 percent. Now some people are saying that others are coming in to South Africa to take their jobs. But I know when the economy is pumping again, everyone will feel good. You won’t see xenophobia.”
CHARMAINE MDEDETYANA is a 23-year-old poet who also teaches writing and modeling. She is very excited about South Africa’s future but worries that too many members of the younger generation haven’t learned they have to work hard to find a place. She sported a temporary tattoo of Mandela on her face to mark the occasion.
“This country is so vibrant. We are all different, from different backgrounds. But our sports unite us and Nelson Mandela unites us. It’s just a free spirited country. I love the energy that people have, and the opportunities here, the opportunity to associate with any race, the equality, the freedom of speech, the opportunities that a writer has.
“I worry most about the youth, me being one of them. As time goes on, we seem to detach ourselves from what Nelson Mandela’s generation of leaders did. We seem to have lost focus. But I think in time we will be ready to step into the shoes of our past leaders. I worry about the fact that the youth don’t work, they don’t plan on finding business opportunities. Sometimes it’s like, we don’t want to work, we want things to come to us for free. … We keep on saying Nelson Mandela did this — we forget he actually worked hard for that, and we have to work hard to keep this generation alive. It will be lost if we don’t change this attitude.”