South Africa’s incumbent and beleaguered President, Jacob Zuma is a sharp contrast to the land of Nelson Mandela. Zuma, a man born into poverty has almost entirely lived under the shadow of corruption. In 2005 he was charged with rape, however, proud polygamist was acquitted. Zuma’s friend speak of charismatic confidence and strength as he has grown enormously popular over the last several years. adversity partly explain his enduring popularity. Today, while South Africa faces inner turmoil, with crime running rampant throughout the land, Zuma concluded bilateral talks with President Putin of the Russian Federation. As Zuma greated the press, he declared that the status of the two country’s bilateral relations and an exchange of views on regional and multilateral issues of common interest in Africa, had been satisfactorily evaluated. Zuma closed the press conference with a brief discussion concerning arrangements in place for the Russian National Soccer Team to play against South Africa’s national squad Bafana Bafana sometime before the end of the year.
Though Putin’s visit was scene by many as a monumental success, nevertheless, allegations that Zuma has plundered the public purse for his private homestead and other nefarious activities keeps a cloud suspicious ever looming over him and his administration.
Such a checkered atmosphere was conspicuously absent during Nelson Mandela’s reign in office. when I think about human rights the Africa that once was ruled by Mandela. I remember landing in the busy Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa on April 17, 2010 to deliver a presentation at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Wits, as it is called in the land of Nelson Mandela is a leading university in Africa and stands in stark contrast to many of the universities I have seen throughout Africa. But this is a land of many contrasts and stark inequalities.
A friend took us for a drive to see Johannesburg. We whisked past glass-plated shopping malls and tall high rises that could rival any in New York or Los Angeles. And then we drove through Soweto. Remember Soweto, where the anti-apartheid riots took place and a 12 year-old boy named Hector Pieterson was killed (among others) when police opened fire on protesters. While not as bad as some slum areas in Johannesburg, Soweto is a stark contrast to the glitzy malls and watering holes of the South African rich. And though Zuma was President at the time, Soweto seemed void of corruption.
It was the children I met in the Soweto schools that made me think about human rights the most. While books and pencils were in short supply, intellect and curiosity were not. The principal asked me to talk to the children, but instead they talked to me. Seated in their uniforms and courteous beyond belief, they wanted to know about America.
All was well until one middle school-aged boy broke the spell. Seated in the back of the classroom, he pinned me to the wall when he asked why we went to war with Iraq and perhaps we were not as rich as we thought ourselves to be.
I tell you, I was shaken by the question because it felt more like an accusation. I explained the best I could, waved farewell and headed back to campus. All night I brooded over what this student who was about the age of Hector Pieterson when he died, was really thinking. I may never know, but I bet as I prepare to board my comfortable plane and head back to my comfortable life in the United States, the answer lies somewhere in between. And all this time I was contrasting the rule of Mandela with Zuma, when perhaps I should have considered the corruption and crime that takes place every day in America.
The Land of Nelson Mandela
By Helen Bond