Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

South Africa Losing a Little Luster

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

South Africa Losing a Little Luster

Article excerpt

PRETORIA, South Africa -- The South Africa admired by the world - - a beacon of hope and racial harmony -- is getting some polish on a hilltop outside this capital city.

Freedom Park, a sprawling, $75 million monument approved nine years ago by Nelson Mandela, will formally open its gates next year, just in time for a key national election. Some 130 acres of tranquil gardens, soaring rock walls and lily-pad-dappled ponds will honor those who died in South Africa's long struggles against colonialism, imperialism and the racist policies of apartheid.

But there are a few problems with timing.

The leader who was slated to unveil it -- former President Thabo Mbeki -- was toppled last month in disgrace. His party, the venerable African National Congress, which guided the nation's liberation movement, is busy chewing itself apart in tawdry power struggles. And many South Africans, disillusioned by woes ranging from mismanaged electrical plants to the proliferation of fat-cat cronyism, aren't looking back anymore, but worriedly forward -- to a future that seems somehow dimmer, tarnished by a loss of innocence.

"I think they built that place for politicians," Lydia Mamokabe, 18, an unemployed single mother, muttered angrily outside a scrap- board shack near Freedom Park's entrance. "The ANC says it wants our votes next year. Why? Where are they taking us? They take us nowhere."

Adolescence, it seems, can rattle countries as well as people. And so, 14 years into its pioneering multiracial democracy, South Africa, nicknamed the "Rainbow Nation" for its dedication to the ideal of tolerance, finds itself mired in a cynical funk these days.

Over the past 12 months alone, a series of unprecedented crises have only deepened the national angst over the ousting of an unpopular president, Mr. Mbeki, and the rise of his archrival, Jacob Zuma, a president-in-waiting whose reputation was tainted by allegations of rape and corruption. …

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