After Mandela: 2014 will be a difficult year for South Africa

Zuma and the ANC will win next year’s general election, but they will be weakened as a political force

People comfort each other outside the residence of former South African President Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg. Photograph: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

People comfort each other outside the residence of former South African President Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg. Photograph: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

Sat, Jan 4, 2014, 01:00

‘I just wasn’t ready for a world without Mandela, ” a tearful, white Afrikaans woman said to me a few days ago. The year 2013 will be remembered by the world, but especially South Africans, for the year we said goodbye to our beloved Nelson Mandela, or Tata Madiba (father Madiba) as we referred to him. The last few weeks of last year were filled with grief for the nation of my birth and it is pain and sadness I personally experienced very intensely.

Yet, having just returned to South Africa I also felt a real sense of pride for the way Madiba’s death was handled. Of course many, highly embarrassing mistakes were made. There was the disaster of a sign language interpreter that we would rather forget, the army which marched in different directions, the family having a fight and Archbishop Tutu being left off the guest list. Yet, in between the mess- ups, there was also the white young man who tightly hugged an elderly black African woman when she became overwhelmed by grief outside Mandela’s home and a white woman being comforted by a black police woman after seeing Madiba’s body.

There was the emotional final journey watched by millions when his remains finally left Pretoria and were flown to his homestead in Qunu, accompanied only by an African lament, Hamba kahle, hamba kahle, Madiba (Go well, go well Madiba).

Yet the question kept on being asked as it did for months, if not years, by foreign journalists and analysts who have predicted a collapse of South Africa once Madiba dies. “What happens after Mandela?” This is the question I was asked most by foreigners during the last 20 years as an MP and an ambassador. My answer was always the same: “Nothing. Nothing, apart from a period of grief.” But is that really true?

Now as the initial mourning period has passed, is the rainbow nation truly ready for a world without Madiba? Will the democracy and sense of nationhood hold or will it, as so many predicted, spiral into violence and anarchy?

There is no doubt that 2014 will be a difficult year for South Africa. Apart from economic challenges, the fifth general election since the birth of the democratic state will be held in April or May. All elections bring a period of instability – especially in developing countries, and South Africa will have it too. Unlike many other countries in Africa there are no real indicators of an escalation in violence. However, political turmoil will most certainly increase more than at other stage since Mandela became president in 1994.

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