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Mandela’s Death Leaves South Africa Yearning for Better Leaders

Nelson Mandela’s death comes at a time when South Africans are increasingly disillusioned with their leaders who are facing allegations of corruption and rising protests over a lack of jobs, housing and services.

“Ever since Nelson Mandela left office everything went wrong,” said Kenosi Dlamini, a 28-year-old who sells Mandela T-shirts in Soweto outside Johannesburg said today in an interview. “If everyone was on Mandela’s wavelength, South Africa would be a better place. I feel like our political leaders are misleading us. All we hear is of them hanging out in luxury hotels.”

President Jacob Zuma is under investigation by the nation’s corruption ombudsman for the spending of more than 200 million rand ($20 million) of state funds on renovations at his private residence that included a pool, amphitheater and houses for relatives. Last year police fired on striking miners at Lonmin Plc’s Marikana platinum mine, killing at least 34 people, in some of the worst violence since the end of apartheid.

Zuma, 71, who won control of the ruling African National Congress from Thabo Mbeki in 2007, became president in 2009 just weeks after prosecutors dropped charges against him for allegedly taking bribes from arms dealers. He fathered a child with a friend’s daughter, while an Indian family who he counts as his friends secured access to a high security air force base on April 30 to transport guests to a wedding. He was acquitted of rape charges in 2006.

Nepotism Concern

“People in power now don’t want to share. There is a lot of nepotism, a lot of crime,” Ntsiki Mthembu, 60, said in an interview while sitting down and resting her hands on a walking stick after singing songs in tribute to Mandela in Soweto. “We’re worried. There are no jobs for young people. There is a lot of unrest in this country. If Mandela was here, it wouldn’t be like this.”

Since the controversy over spending on Zuma’s home in Nkandla in eastern KwaZulu-Natal province exploded with the publication of excerpts from a preliminary report by the graft ombudsman, more than 18,000 people have signed a petition calling for his impeachment.

In the report, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela said Zuma should repay part of the money spent on his house because he personally benefited from it, the Mail & Guardian newspaper reported on Nov. 29.

The government said the money went toward needed security upgrades, and Zuma denied any role in authorizing them. The ANC said Zuma wasn’t responsible for any wrongdoing and accused Madonsela of playing politics by leaking the report, a charge she denied.

Short-Term Boost

In the short term, Mandela’s demise may bolster support for the ANC. It could divert attention from its failings and enable the party to retain more than 60 percent support in elections next year, said Mark Rosenberg, an Africa analyst at New York-based Eurasia Group, said in e-mailed comments.

“Mandela’s death will ultimately hurt the ANC precisely where it temporarily helps: by sapping the party’s historical legitimacy and encouraging rejection by voters who believe the ANC has failed to deliver on its economic promises and become mired in corruption,” Rosenberg said. “Mandela’s death will further de-couple the ANC from the liberation struggle on which it still bases much of its legitimacy.”

The Auditor-General’s office said last month that an audit of 450 government departments and entities uncovered 30.8 billion rand in irregular, unauthorized or wasteful expenditure last year, up from 30 billion rand the year before.

Mandela’s Dream

“Those in power now don’t want to pursue the dream Mandela had,” said Dlamini, the Soweto T-shirt seller who quit the ANC’s Youth League and lives a block from Mandela’s old home in Soweto. “They drive past in their Mercedez and BMWs all the time.”

As many as one in five South Africans lack formal housing and 2.3 million households don’t have proper toilets. Half of all children who start school drop out before completing the 12-year curriculum.

The jobless rate remains 24.7 percent, while average earnings for black households are a sixth of their white counterparts.

There were a record 173 protests last year over a lack of proper shelter and basic services, according to Johannesburg-based research group Municipal IQ.

The ANC is also facing a potential revolt from the 324,000-member National Union of Metalworkers. Numsa is planning to meet next week to decide whether to quit the ANC-allied Congress of South African Trade Unions and withdraw support for the ruling party because of differences over government policies.

“He died at a time when we need him most to guide the nation because people are still struggling economically,” said Themba Msibi, a 39-year-old councillor for the ward where Mandela’s Soweto residence was located. “He has run his race though, so it’s time for him to rest. Lala kahle Qhawe - Rest in Peace Great Hero.”

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