Newspaper article International New York Times

The Struggle to Define South Africa

Newspaper article International New York Times

The Struggle to Define South Africa

Article excerpt

At a time of violence and political unrest, an opposition leader is playing a long game against the governing African National Congress.

When Nelson Mandela died in late 2013, many asked whether the era he had nurtured of reconciliation, tolerance and hope had died with him.

To a visitor to South Africa these days, or anyone who follows news reports, the answer might seem unequivocal.

Just this week in Pretoria, the capital, buses were set on fire in political feuding that offered grim, pyrotechnic omens for critical local elections on Aug. 3.

President Jacob G. Zuma has been resisting opposition calls for his ouster after the country's highest court found that he had violated the Constitution.

Credit rating agencies have reduced their assessment of the country's prospects and could be preparing yet lower assessments of the slowing economy. Almost nine million South Africans cannot find work. Corruption has spread across the land.

But put the question to Mmusi Maimane, the leader of the biggest opposition party in Parliament, who visited London this week, and he frames his response in a different way.

"Yes, we had the Mandela era -- a great history, a profound history for the whole world actually," he said in an interview. "But the question for South Africans is: What future do we then present?"

In seeking to define the post-Mandela era, Mr. Maimane, 36, who holds degrees in psychology, public administration and theology, is playing a long game against his party's archfoe.

That means he is taking on Mr. Zuma's African National Congress, which has long cast itself as the sole legitimate repository of South African aspirations.

In elections in 2014, Mr. Maimane's party, the Democratic Alliance, continued a steady rise to take 89 of 400 seats in Parliament. The A.N.C. slipped back slightly, but it still holds 249 seats, and the Democratic Alliance's further advance faces obstacles.

For many South Africans, the A.N.C. is the party of liberation that fought against apartheid and now controls the fonts of patronage that cement the loyalty of its followers.

The Democratic Alliance, by contrast, is seen by many voters as a group founded and supported by the white minority. …

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