JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - When Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, he brought a vision of forgiveness and reconciliation to rebuild a nation marred by the legacy of white rule. But the South Africa he leaves behind is still a work in progress, far from living up to the promises ushered in by his freedom and the ideals of justice and equality that he espoused.
South Africa has made tremendous strides since the end of apartheid, the brutal system of white rule that gripped the country for decades. Under apartheid, black people and other nonwhites were racially separated in every manner possible: education, hospitals, public transport, even beaches. They were forcibly removed from homes, denied citizenship or a vote; any dissent was violently suppressed by the state. Today, all South Africans are considered equal under the constitution.
The nation, thanks in large part to Mandela, is no longer an international pariah but participates freely in the global economy, sports, and other arenas. South African companies have expanded across sub-Saharan Africa and are a vital economic engine for the continent. South Africa, diplomatically and militarily, is playing a leading role in efforts to defuse crises in Congo, the Central African Republic, and other trouble spots on the continent.
But at home, the record remains mixed, a place where Mandela's hopes and dreams remain largely unfulfilled. South Africa is a nation where racial and economic inequalities still tear through the consciousness of the black majority. While some progress has been made, the majority of blacks live in poverty, and many still lack basic necessities such as electricity, proper housing, and clean water. Education and health care for impoverished blacks remain poor. It is a nation where the economy is still largely controlled by whites and a relatively small group of black elites.
It is also a nation where there's gradual but growing disillusionment with the ruling African National Congress, the party that Mandela helped create and nurture into the revolutionary force that dismantled apartheid. Today, the party and its leadership are facing allegations of corruption and of ignoring the needs of impoverished blacks, the very constituency that Mandela fought so long and hard to emancipate and empower.
"We have pockets of individuals, institutions, and groups who are pushing Mandela's ideals," said William Gumede, a political analyst. "But there has also been backsliding among the ANC leaders in espousing Mandela's hopes and dreams. His death has left a real gap, and the current leadership is not up to filling this gap."
When he became South Africa's first black president after winning the nation's first multi-race elections in 1994, Mandela actively wooed foreign investors. Instead of nationalizing companies, he persuaded the ANC to move away from its socialist ethos and embrace a free and open economy, which fueled South Africa's economic growth for years.
Today, however, that legacy is under fire. Unemployment remains at nearly 25 percent; whites on average earn six times more than their black counterparts. The ANC youth wing has lobbied hard for the nationalization of banks and mines; according to the Municipal IQ, a Johannesburg-based research group, last year there were a record 173 protests, many of them violent, over a lack of housing, jobs, and basic services. According to World Bank statistics, South Africa remains one of the world's most economically unequal societies.
The most violent upheaval came in August 2012, when police killed 34 mine workers waging a strike at a platinum mine in the town of Marikana. It was the deadliest action by police in post-apartheid South Africa. The ANC responded by charging the striking miners with the murders of their coworkers, triggering popular anger at the storied party.
Politically, allegations of corruption have touched the highest levels of office - something that would have been unthinkable under Mandela's single term in office. President Jacob Zuma is facing a government probe for allegedly spending about $20 million of state funds to renovate his luxurious private residence in KwaZulu Natal province. In 2006, he was acquitted of rape charges. In 2009, charges that he allegedly took bribes from arms dealers were dropped, paving the way for his presidency.
In the famed township of Soweto, on Vilakazi Street where Mandela once lived, youths protested and fought the apartheid regime in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Today, many young people here express concern about their future in a post-Mandela South Africa.
"Madiba wanted us to have peace and no racism," said Thandeke Belle, 14, a middle school student, using Mandela's clan name, as many people in South Africa do. "I still feel there is racism although it was not as much as apartheid. The whites are still at the top, and we blacks are stuck down at the middle."
"Poor people are going to become poorer and the rich will get richer because of what's happening," said Belle's classmate Thato Tshabale, 15, who was standing next to her. "If you are a normal person with no connections, you will be nothing in today's South Africa."
Despite all the challenges South Africa faces upon Mandela's death, many South Africans expressed gratitude that they were led by a man who by example showed how leaders should govern their nation, imbued with the principles of democracy, justice, and equality.
"He was our [George] Washington," said Gumede, the political analyst. "In his personal and public life, he created a gold standard and way of governing that showed us how our leaders should govern. . . . We know what is possible. Not many leaders in Africa can set that kind of example."
Mandela's Life Celebrated
A day after Nelson Mandela's death, South Africans of all colors erupted in song, dance and tears Friday in emotional celebrations of the life of the man who bridged this country's black-white divide and helped avert a race war.
At a service in Cape Town, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel laureate like Mandela and himself a monumental figure in the struggle against apartheid, called on South Africa's 51 million people to embrace the values of unity and democracy that Mandela embodied. "God, thank you for the gift of Madiba," Tutu said, using Mandela's clan name.
At Mandela's home in the leafy Johannesburg neighborhood of Houghton, where he spent his last sickly months, a multi-racial crowd paid tribute.
President Jacob Zuma announced a schedule of ceremonies expected to draw huge numbers of world dignitaries and ordinary mourners.
Mandela's body is to lie in state from Wednesday through Friday after a memorial service at the same Johannesburg stadium where he made his last public appearance in 2010 at the closing ceremony of the soccer World Cup. He is to be buried in his rural childhood village of Qunu on Dec. 15, after a state funeral.
The White House said President Obama and his wife, Michelle, would visit South Africa next week to participate in memorial events. Former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, are to join the Obamas on Air Force One. Former President Bill Clinton and his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, also plan to travel to South Africa for the memorials.