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

Sat, Jan 4, 2014, 01:00

In fact it has already started. Unexpectedly it seems to have gained momentum with Madiba’s funeral. It was as if the happenings in the FNB stadium provided the spark that brought together various incipient opposition forces. It started with booing the president. It was generally agreed that it was not the time or place for that, yet there is also an acknowledgement that it shows the strength and robustness of South Africa’s democracy. And it showed that President Zuma has not been able to keep Mandela’s party together.

Shortly after the funeral the biggest trade union, the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa, withdrew its support from the ANC, quoting Mandela extensively and basing its actions on the protection of his legacy.

This move has serious implications for South African politics, as it takes votes and financial support from the ANC. More seriously, it puts the alliance between the national trade union federation, Cosatu, and the governing party under strain.

This does not mean the ANC will lose the next election. They will win and Jacob Zuma will remain president. But what it will do is weaken the ANC and possibly see more coalition government at a provincial level in former ANC strongholds – something thought to be impossible before.

But these serious political shifts do not mean things will fall apart. The Mandela structure is intact and will stay that way, because it was always bigger than Mandela itself. South Africa’s strength is in its diversity and complexity. But it is far more.

The structure and integrity of society is protected by its diversity as reflected in the press, judiciary, constitutional structure, business sector and civil society engagement. When outsiders see the complex nature of this rainbow nation, they often see only the fault lines. They miss the solid structures that hold it all together. These structures are Mandela’s legacy. His biggest gift to South Africa was ensuring what he created outlived him.

On an emotional level, South Africans of all races are finding it hard to deal with the reality of Tata Madiba’s absence. Mistakes will continue to be made as the democracy enters its adolescence. But as a nation there is no question that the country will get it right and thanks to our founding father, hold it all together.

Melanie Verwoerd is a former South African ambassador to Ireland

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