In DepthColumnsMandela: For a more just society


Posted on Friday, 06 December 2013 21:12

Mandela: For a more just society

On the July 18th birthday of Nelson Mandela this year a constant throng of people of all age groups, social classes and skin colors jammed the quite street in front of Mandela's mansion in the ultra-ritzy Houghton Estates suburb of Johannesburg.


Many of those people, South African residents and foreign visitors, came to Mandela's mansion to leave tributes and mementos paying homage to "Madiba" a family/clan name of the man applauded worldwide for his leadership in helping transform South Africa from a racist police state into a pulsating multi-racial democracy.

Hopefully, leaders around the world now laying praise on the grave of this unique man will embrace Mandela's example

That Noble Peace Prize earning leadership provided by Mandela included the nearly thirty torturous years he spent inside South African prison cells where he served as an iconic symbol for the roiling struggle to end apartheid.

That scene of love outside Mandela's mansion encapsulated both admiration for this revered figure and aspirations for a future that South Africa seems diligently, if often haltingly, working to achieve: an equitable society...not just equitable in word but equitable in deed.

When those throngs came to Mandela's mansion he was forty miles away inside a hospital in Pretoria battling illnesses that would claim his life months later on December 5th at the age of 95.

The tremendous changes across South Africa since Mandela's 1990 release from prison extends beyond his 1994 election as President or acts like constructing a building for South Africa's supreme court on the site of an infamous Johannesburg prison utilizing bricks from the prison that once held Mandela and other anti-apartheid activists including the legendary Mahatma Gandhi who confronted that racist system in the early 1900s before his return to India.

The government that Mandela put in place has built millions of new homes for impoverished South Africans extending electricity and portable water to places ignored during apartheid. Since Mandela's presidency South Africa has done more for its least than much richer nation's like the United States where rhetoric exceeds real work on alleviating poverty and other structural inequities.

But make no mistake – South Africa still has its problems, like immense income inequities in that land famous for gold and diamonds.

Four miles from Mandela's mansion is the Township of Alexandra where abject poverty abundantly evident in shantytowns of tin roofed shacks without indoor toilets presents a painful contrast to the opulence of Houghton and adjacent Sandton that houses world-class shopping and South Africa's stock exchange.

Mandela lived in Alexandra in the early 1940s where he participated in a boycott against bus fare increase before joining the ANC. Mandela moved to Soweto where his small home there is now a museum attracting throngs daily.

Larger than life during his lifetime, Mandela's aura will continue to grow within South Africa. Hopefully, leaders around the world now laying praise on the grave of this unique man will embrace Mandela's example of working to create a more just society.

Linn Washington Jr.

Linn Washington Jr.

Linn Washington Jr. is a journalist and journalism professor who works in Philadelphia, Pa USA. Washington specializes in analytical/investigative coverage of issues involving law, social justice, race-based inequities and the news media. Washington teaches courses in investigative and multi-media urban reporting. He is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program.

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