Five voices on Nelson Mandela

South Africans are divided over the impact of Nelson Mandela on their lives. Photo / AP
South Africans are divided over the impact of Nelson Mandela on their lives. Photo / AP

Veronica Daniels, 60

Several of Veronica Daniels' friends said they would tear up their ANC membership cards after Nelson Mandela's death. "They are unhappy because we are still poor. But I will not tear up my card," said Daniels, a cook at a preschool centre. "The reason people are upset with the ANC is that the politicians of today did not listen carefully enough to Mandela." A black woman classed as "coloured" during apartheid, Daniels was working as a restaurant cook in February 1990 when Mandela was freed. "He came out and opened our eyes. Over time, privileges changed, but we South Africans did not know what to do with our freedom. We cannot blame Mandela." She said that those who complained about South Africa today had forgotten the past.

Lesiba Tloubatla, 42

Lesiba Tloubatla was at a crossroads when Mandela was released from jail in February 1990: "I was a dropout radical, 18 years old and leading a student movement in Limpopo province.

As I watched him come out of prison on television, I was ready for war. I was disappointed when he told us we should forgive." But Tloubatla, now studying for an MBA in his spare time, was inspired by Mandela. "His charisma and his determination to believe in what you want to achieve were a driving force for me," said the senior civil servant, who was born in Limpopo and is the eldest son of an office messenger. In 1990, Tloubatla's parents moved to Mamelodi, near Pretoria, leaving him in charge of his five siblings. Tloubatla got a job as a petrol pump attendant and soon afterwards the first of three "miracles involving white people" happened. He connects these to the message of forgiveness Mandela disseminated to open white hearts. "Mandela had a message for each of us. The one for people like me was: forgive the past and work hard to realise your dreams. The one to whites was: look around you and give something back. The whites who helped me were Mr van der Merwe, the owner of the Total petrol station in Silverton. He gave me the opportunity to study while working. Then there was Skalk van Wyk, who was the other top student on my public administration diploma course. He was already working part-time in government and took my CV and that's how I got my first job, in the Department of Labour. Much later, in Cape Town, there was Jan du Plessis, who noticed me at a conference and pointed me in the direction of a position that was opening." Now, as the director of the human resources development directorate at the Department of Health of the Western Cape, Tloubatla points to the irony that his progress has in some ways been down to the gestures of kind white people. "There is something wrong with that."

Andile Ngcolomba, 22

Andile Ngcolomba knows his opinion is taboo: "Mandela may be considered a great man in many countries, but he meant nothing to me. Millions of South Africans think the way I do." Born in the harsh Cape township of Khayelitsha and raised by his single mother, Ngcolomba is part of the generation of poor blacks who in theory had the most to gain from majority rule. Instead, he and others in his age group have struggled through a poor education system or fallen into unemployment and drugs, alcohol or crime. "Mandela manipulated our grandparents with propaganda. They died but he became famous. Look at how we live: has anything changed?" he asks, offering a tour of his home. It is a leaky three-room breeze-block house. He shares it with his unemployed elder sister and his domestic-worker mother. There is no carpet, plaster or paint. The image of Mandela as an icon of forgiveness is foreign to him. "I do not see that we have forgiven the whites. Mandela manipulated us into giving in so that the country could be run in the same way," says Ngcolomba, who dropped out of school. "We are supposed to have free education. But if you want to go to a decent school you have to go outside the township, which involves fees and transport costs." He says race still determines quality in the state sector, with "white schools" (those in areas dominated by whites) being the best, followed by "Coloured schools", attended by children from the fairer-skinned racial majority of the Western Cape. "My mother sent me to a Coloured primary school. That is why I speak good English and Afrikaans. But when I moved to a secondary school in Khayelitsha with only black teachers, they were hostile. I annoyed them by asking questions. 'You think you are clever because you come from a Coloured school,' they said." He says the "Rainbow Nation" is a myth.

Joy Sapieka, 59

Whenever Joy Sapieka burned the midnight oil in 1980s London, it was on behalf of campaigns against apartheid and for the release of Nelson Mandela. "Those were heady days. You never counted the hours. It was all about reconciliation. It was so important," she said. Sapieka had loathed her native country under apartheid. Her only ambition was to leave. "At the University of Cape Town we demonstrated, friends were arrested, there were spies everywhere. In those days you had three choices: you put your life on the line, you turned a blind eye to apartheid, or you got out." Sapieka moved to London in 1974 and worked for the anti-apartheid movement. Twenty years later, in 1994, she set foot inside South Africa House for the first time, to vote. It took her a further seven years to move back. "It was hard because people's lives here had been so eventful that no one really cared what you had been doing in London. Yet the struggle had defined many of our lives." The hardest thing, she says, was realising that the top prize in the struggle against apartheid was for South Africa to be a country like any other. "We had icons full of goodness - Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela - and they gave their lives so we should be free to be greedy and divisive."

Rudolph Trumpelmann, 23

As a white South African, Rudolph Trumpelmann counts for little under black economic empowerment (Bee) rules. "Mandela did not want Bee. He wanted to fight hate with love. Nothing will change with Mandela's death because today's politicians have forgotten him already. They are just after power and money," he says. Trumpelmann, a student of computer animation, is not hostile towards efforts to lift up the non-white majority. "There need to be better opportunities," he says. He is not interested in politics and rejects the idea that he should bear any moral pressure because he is white. "Mandela to me feels like he belonged to a different time. It is difficult for me to feel any connection with him, except that we are both South African. "I had registered to vote at the last election, but I never got round to it. Had I voted it would have been for the Democratic Alliance, like most whites. But we all know the ANC gets all the votes. I think Mandela imagined people would mix more."

- Observer

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n2 at 16 Apr 2014 17:37:59 Processing Time: 794ms