Opinion: South Africa stirs uneasily as Mandela is laid to rest | Africa | DW | 16.12.2013
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Opinion: South Africa stirs uneasily as Mandela is laid to rest

South Africa is now starting to coming to terms with the loss of Nelson Mandela. Claus Stäcker, head of DW's Africa service, looks back at the last 10 days of mourning and has his doubts about South Africa's future.

Mandela's funeral in his home village of Qunu marked the end a dignified ten-day state ceremony. After a life packed with incident and turmoil, he is now at peace.

The world watched every moment of the funeral of this great statesman who exuded that unifying force known as the "Madiba magic."

150,000 people formed long queues to bid farewell to the legend. White South Africans were seen weeping, soldiers struggling to maintain composure, and people of color consoling each other.

Tens of thousands lined streets wanting to catch a last glimpse of Mandela as the convoy left for Qunu. And the ceremony in Qunu? A little chaotic, perhaps. The streets were still being given a facelift right up to the last moment. Local residents were barred from the funeral and the seating arrangements were also rather strange. Mandela's old friend and lawyer George Bizos was confined to one of the back rows while South Africa's second most prominent legend, Archbishop Desmond Tutu was not officially invited.

According to Thembu tradition, his body had to be interred before the sun reached its zenith. This custom was not respected, but maybe this infraction will be overlooked.

Prior to the funeral there were embarrassing rows over his burial place, his brands and trademarks and the assets belonging to the trusts he set up.

The preparations for one of the biggest funerals ever held were amateurish. The sign language interpreter Thamsanga Jantjie, turned out to be an imposter. Yet his meaningless gestures did add a dose of humour to the proceedings. Mandela himself loved to laugh, but this particular incident also conveyed a deeper message about the present state of the African National Congress.

How was it possible that the ANC permitted this charlatan to stand right next to the world's most powerful leaders? It is a riddle that even US President Barack Obama's personal security guards have not been able to unravel. It would appear that when being given a job in post-apartheid South Africa, political connections outweigh professional qualifications.

In death, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was able to bring together people who would have perhaps otherwise avoided one another. The leaders of the United States and Cuba shook hands. Political rivals within the ANC government were also seen standing side by side.

The unscrupulous stood next to the honest and those who had failed to achieve reconciliation bade the peacemaker farewell. But this could be the last time that South Africa's ruling elite sit next to one other so harmoniously.

Never before in the last two decades has there been so much discontent among ordinary South Africans. President Jacob Zuma, whose presence in the international media over the last week seemed to be working to his advantage, finds his reputation more damaged than ever before. South Africans had booed him in public mercilessly.

Cyril Ramaphosa, ANC's vice president, gained in stature while presiding over Sunday's ceremony. He was once chosen by Mandela to be his successor, but the leadership bid failed because of opposition within the party.

Many still regard Ramaphosa as having leadership potential even though as one of the ANC's multimillionaires, he is viewed with suspicion by ordinary South Africans. Could President Zuma be persuaded not to run in the 2014 elections? If that were to happen, Ramaphosa might make it.

Then the building of the Rainbow Nation, with its promise of reconciliation and social justice, could continue. Judging by Zuma's performance over the last five years, change for the better under his leadership is not to be expected.

But there is more to South Africa than Jacob Zuma as the emotional farewells of the last 10 days have shown. The world saw a nation that did not exist before Mandela. At his graveside, it found itself reunited once more.

History shows that a people can be far stronger than any political party. Zuma once said the ANC would rule "until Jesus comes back". History will prove him wrong. At the very least, South Africans have alternatives. That is the essence of democracy for which Mandela was prepared to lay down his life.

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