What next for South Africa? This racially charged country that, on Nelson Mandela’s watch, inspired the world by embracing reconciliation in all-race elections in 1994 is again in the global spotlight after the loss of such a towering historical figure. It is a time not just for grief and gratitude, but also a clear-eyed assessment of national strengths and shortcomings in a future without a man who was a guide to so many.
“It’s a new beginning,” said Kyle Redford, one of many outside the home of the anti-apartheid leader who became the nation’s first black president. “The loss of a legend is going to force us to come together once again.” He acknowledged that there is a “sense of what next: Where do we go? What do we do? And how do we do it?”
Mandela’s resolve rubbed off on many of his compatriots, though such conviction is tempered by the reality that his vision of a “rainbow nation” failed, almost inevitably, to meet the heady expectations propelling the country two decades ago. Peaceful elections and relatively harmonious race relations define today’s South Africa; so do crime, corruption and economic inequality.
Mandela, who died Friday at age 95, was a powerful symbol in the hopeful, uncharted period after apartheid, even when he left the presidency, retired from public life and shuttled in and out of hospitals as a protracted illness eroded his once-robust frame. He became a moral anchor, so entwined with the national identity that some South Africans wondered whether the country would slide into chaos after his death.
“Does it spell doomsday and disaster for us?” retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu asked Friday before declaring that no, the country will not disintegrate.
“The sun will rise tomorrow and the next day and the next,” said Tutu, who like Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize for fighting apartheid and promoting reconciliation. “It may not appear as bright as yesterday, but life will carry on.”