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Nelson Mandela did not transform the economy or eradicate poverty. He did something bigger — he unified South Africa and steered it away from conflict.
Nelson Mandela dedicated his entire adult life to the struggle for freedom in South Africa, and in 1994 became president of the country's first democratically elected government. On February 11, 1990, Mandela was released from 27 years of imprisonment. I recall going to Cape Town's Grand Parade, where he was going to give his first speech. His arrival was delayed due to security concerns. As darkness fell, the atmosphere was electric. From the periphery, shots could be heard as police fired birdshot at looters. Mandela eventually stepped onto the balcony of the City Hall to a rapturous welcome from the huge crowd. Next to me was a man in a trance-like state, chanting "Mandela the prisoner... Mandela the saviour..."
Walking to the Parade earlier that day, I fell into conversation with a security guard, an occupation notorious for long hours and low pay. He was confident that with Mandela now released, people like him would soon have good houses. The 1994 election manifesto of the African National Congress (ANC) promised "a better life for all", but the reality is that people's lives have not improved very much. The middle and upper classes have done well and the black middle class has expanded hugely. There has been a significant increase in the supply of housing, electricity and running water to low income groups, but health and education outcomes remain dismal for a middle income country. The unemployment rate, always high, has actually increased and is currently 25 per cent. South Africa remains an unequal and fractured society and if it were not for the largescale roll-out of social grants, poverty would have increased since 1994.