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Soweto Activist: While Mandela Helped Build “The New South Africa,” Struggle Continues for Many

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Residents of Soweto began morning outside the former home of Nelson Mandela soon after his death was announced. We go to South Africa to speak with the Soweto-based activist Trevor Ngwane. He reflects on Mandela’s historic legacy but also talks about some of the failings of the new South Africa. For many South Africans, the fight for social and economic justice has not ended.

Click here to watch our special coverage of the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to South Africa, to Trevor Ngwane. Trevor—last year when we were in Durban, then flew to Johannesburg—took us on a tour of Soweto and to Nelson Mandela’s home. He is the well-known Soweto-based activist who was part of the struggle against apartheid.

Trevor, you are there in the home of Nelson Mandela, near the home of Nelson Mandela. Can you talk about the reaction in South Africa to the death of this global icon?

TREVOR NGWANE: Thank you, Amy. There is great shock and sadness among ordinary people in South Africa and also across the political spectrum, because Mandela was beloved by all—rich and poor, black and white, young and old. He symbolizes the best in our nation, the best in humanity. So everyone is shocked and sad. And life, in a way, is slowing down, I think, to take time for the shock to actually register properly.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the reaction in Soweto right now and the significance of Soweto as ground zero in the struggle against apartheid?

TREVOR NGWANE: Yeah, people are flocking to Mandela’s old house in Orlando West, singing and toyi-toying, remembering their hero, the person who led the struggle against apartheid, who led the victory, who led them to liberation. Mandela was a visionary. He symbolized hope that a just and equal society was possible. And he was indeed the architect of what we now call the new South Africa. He was both father and midwife of this new society. So, a lot of what is best, what is good about South Africa is associated with the name of Nelson Mandela.

Remember that in his younger days he lived in Orlando West in Soweto. He dealt with people’s everyday problems. He and the late Oliver Tambo, the leader of the ANC, the other leader of the ANC, ran a law practice where many ordinary people, harassed and harangued by apartheid, would come seeking help. And then he became leader of the African National Congress in the ’50s. And when the ANC was banned and when the apartheid regime used force against the people, especially in Sharpeville, Mandela had the courage and the vision to take up arms.

In a way, just to tell you, Amy, what I think, I think he was a complex man. He was a man—you know, the jazz musician Duke Ellington would describe a good song and say it is “beyond category,” because most people know him as a man of peace, but he knew when to take up arms. He was a strong leader, but he could be gentle. He was an organizational man, but sometimes he would break out of organizational discipline and reach out beyond his own ANC. He was a black man who suffered under apartheid and racism. He strove for non-racialism. He was both an idealist—you know, his vision of a happy, nonracial, prosperous South Africa—but he was also a realist, because he was able—you know, many of us are unhappy about that aspect—to, in a way, compromise and make a deal with big capital. Today, that is presented as reconciliation, but Mandela knew that that reconciliation meant that the vast amount of the wealth, the mines, the factories, would remain in white hands, the hands of capital. So he was a complex man, and I suppose that marks and defines his greatness.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Trevor, I’d like to ask you, at his inaugural—inauguration speech, Nelson Mandela talked not only about realizing the promise of a multiracial, democratic society, but also one of an economically just society. I’m wondering now, since he only served one term in office and 14 years have passed since he left, what has—how is Soweto today, the progress and the—or the lack of progress that has been made in realizing the revolution’s promise?

TREVOR NGWANE: There has been some progress—you know, paving of roads, building some community facilities. But, by and large, in South Africa, as we say, the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer. Now, Mandela was able to chaperone South Africa from a system of violence, apartheid, into a democratic order—one person, one vote. He did that through a deal, a compromise, a package, which he was able to bring in black people and white people, rich and poor. But today, I would say that the deal is coming apart at the seams, because, for example, everyone was shocked when about a year ago in Marikana, the ANC government sent police to shoot down miners on strike. In South Africa today, there are many community protests, communities rising up demanding water, electricity, housing, which, after 20 years of democracy, they still don’t enjoy. Also, if you look at the ANC, Mandela’s party, which he was always loyal to, in a way, it’s imploding and falling apart. The historic ANC-Communist Party-COSATU, the union alliance, is under great pressure and tension today.

AMY GOODMAN: Trevor Ngwane, we want to thank you for being with us. We’re having a little trouble with the transmission with you in Soweto, but we will link to “our visit with you in Soweto”:”:http://www.democracynow.org/2013/7/18/on_his_95th_birthday_the_story just two years ago when we left Durban. I wanted to turn now, though, to Nelson Mandela. It was 1990. He was just freed from prison. He came to the United States and addressed the United Nations General Assembly.

NELSON MANDELA: It will forever remain an indelible blight on human history that the apartheid crime ever occurred. It will forever remain an accusation and a challenge to all men and women of conscience that it took as long as it has before all of us stood up to say enough is enough. The date for the demise of the white minority regime has been determined, agreed and set. Seven months from now, on April 27, 1994, all the people of South Africa, without discriminations on ground of a gender, race, color or belief, will join in the historic act of electing a government of their choice.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Nelson Mandela just after he was released from prison. He was imprisoned for 27 years. Four years later, he would become president, the first black and the first democratically elected president of South Africa. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, Danny Schechter will join us, the filmmaker who has made six films about Nelson Mandela, including Mandela in America. Stay with us.

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Filmmaker Danny Schechter: The Anti-Apartheid Movement Behind Mandela Can’t Be Forgotten

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