Cape Town, South Africa (PANA) – Just 20 years ago, South Africa was a moral beacon for the entire planet. Its prisoner-turned world statesman Nelson Mandela had confounded millions around the world with his message of reconciliation that saw the country lurch away from a full-blown race war.
Through its Truth and Reconciliation Commission which investigated Apartheid-era atrocities, South Africa provided a blueprint for other nations dealing with self-inflicted trauma. Archbishop Desmond Tutu labeled it the “Rainbow Nation” and thousands of foreigners flocked to the “New South Africa”.
The honeymoon ended on 11 May, 2008 when Ernesto Nhamuave, a Mozambican national, was beaten, stabbed and set alight in Ramaphosa informal settlement in Gauteng. His “crime” was that he was employed. The 35-year-old became known as the “burning man” and photographs of his horrific death served notice of the xenophobia that was rife in the country.
In the following weeks, the violence spread, first to other settlements in the Gauteng Province, then to the coastal cities of Durban and Cape Town. Attacks were also reported in parts of the Southern Cape, Mpumalanga, the North West and Free State. More than 60 people were killed.
Seven years later, Zuma is the controversial president of a deeply divided nation that appears to be at war with itself. Over the past week, attacks on foreign-owned shops which started in Durban spread to Johannesburg, where many foreigners have fled. At least five people have been killed.
Mmusi Maimane, the Parliamentary leader of the official opposition Democratic Alliance noted that “our humanity is slipping away from us. We must never forget that during the dark days of Apartheid, African nations opened their borders to South Africans involved in the struggle for freedom. Yet now we vilify those who flee persecution and oppression and make them the scapegoats for the rage we feel from economic exclusion,” he said.
He noted that in 1994, President Nelson Mandela made a commitment that ‘this beautiful land’ must never again experience the oppression of one by another. “Let us honour his memory by honouring that dream,” he added.
It remains to be seen whether the country that was a shining light for democracy just 20 years ago can shake off its demons.