LONDON » It was a death long foretold that drew mourners from within his own nation and across the globe. But on Friday, one year after Nelson Mandela died, it almost seemed that those he inspired were questing to rediscover his message of probity and reconciliation in a society troubled with newer woes.
After a long illness, Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, died at age 95 at 8:50 p.m. on Dec. 5, 2013, and President Jacob Zuma declared, "Our nation has lost its greatest son." Mandela remains its moral touchstone.
The superlatives returned on Friday as South Africa planned a day of anniversary events that included prayers and speeches as well as a sports-star-studded cricket match and the blaring of the monotone vuvuzela horns that distinguish the nation’s soccer crowds.
Mandela "served South Africa, and all humanity, in a way that no one individual has ever done or is ever likely to in the foreseeable future," said Patrick Craven, a spokesman for the country’s powerful labor movement. "He left it up to us and future generations to continue that struggle."
Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu, like Mandela a Nobel Peace Prize laureate honored for fighting to overthrow apartheid, used Mandela’s clan name to say, "Our obligation to Madiba is to continue to build the society he envisaged, to follow his example."
News reports said that Graga Machel, Mandela’s widow, placed a wreath in his honor, saying that "the body gave in but Madiba’s spirit never, never changed; it was always the same until the end."
In the year since his death, South Africa has sometimes seemed to cling to his memory as an antidote to the apparently intractable challenges of a land whose leaders stand accused of corruption and failure to provide jobs and basic services for millions of impoverished people.
"Although Nelson Mandela is no longer physically with us," said F.?W. de Klerk, South Africa’s last white ruler, who shared the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela, "his legacy remains to guide us as we continue our journey into the third decade of our new society."
At a lengthy public ceremony of speeches and commemorations in Pretoria, the South African capital, that was streamed by news channels, George Bizos, Mandela’s lawyer and a close friend, mused on the essence of the former president’s message. Mandela, he said, "believed in the essential worth of every individual person," irrespective of their skin color or faith.
In elections in May, the fifth of the post-apartheid era, Mandela’s African National Congress, which has governed South Africa since the first fully democratic elections in 1994, triumphed again with roughly 60 percent of the vote. But its rivals also made ground, with the opposition Democratic Alliance strengthening its position and the radical, left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters making remarkable gains, bringing a raucous new element into the national discourse in Parliament.
Such has been the turbulence that the police have twice been called to Parliament to deal with disruptions and protests by the Economic Freedom Fighters, led by the firebrand Julius Malema.
When Mandela died, some in South Africa’s economically powerful white minority said they feared that the racial divisions that still haunted the country would deepen. Others argued, however, that the country’s gap between rich and poor — among the world’s widest — presented an equal or greater peril.
A recent survey by the nonprofit South African Reconciliation Barometer, for instance, said that "the majority of South Africans do want a unified country, and they have experienced meaningful social change since 1994."
But many ordinary citizens, it said, believe "material inequality is the biggest challenge to reconciliation in South Africa."
Cyril Ramaphosa, the deputy president, led the official commemoration in the absence of Zuma, who was booed during a memorial for Mandela in Soweto last year and who was winding up a visit to China on Friday.
In Beijing, Zuma heaped lavish praise on China, a growing influence in Africa that has sought to use the continent’s abundant raw materials to fuel its economic expansion, calling it a better friend than the West, Agence France-Presse reported.
"The emergence of China as a power among others gives or offers an opportunity to African countries to be able to free themselves from the shackles that are really colonially designed," Zuma was quoted as telling a university audience.
With "Europe in particular, you are regarded as either a former subject or a second- and third-class kind of a person," he said. But "the relationship between China and African countries, particularly South Africa, is different."
"We relate as brothers and sisters to do business together, not because one is a poor cousin," he said.
Zuma’s government has pursued close ties with China both bilaterally and within the group of countries known as BRICs, which also includes Brazil, Russia and India. But it has angered critics at home, including Tutu, by preventing the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, from attending events in South Africa for fear of upsetting China.
Alan Cowell, New York Times