He is gone. We had been expecting it for years, and yet the realization of his passing comes with a vortex of emotions and reflections. Having lived in South Africa for about a decade and having studied the politics of this country, I have reasons to admire Madiba and his leadership, while raising some doubts about the long-term effectiveness of his political legacy. He was the man of peace and reconciliation. Not the man of social justice. Together with his family (especially the ‘poor’ Winnie), he paid a huge price for his ideals. Few other human beings have been able to overcome the pain of oppression to stand above their perpetrators and envisage a possible future of unity. This was a remarkable achievement. It came with costs, of course, as South Africa is still an unbearably unequal society. A country where public healthcare remains a dream for most. Where the poor are systematically marginalized. Where redistribution never made it on the political agenda.
With Madiba gone, the future looks more uncertain than ever. For some reason, his presence (albeit reduced to a theoretical reality by age and sickness) was still a compass to many. He was the father of multiracial South Africa. He was a guarantee that the new South Africa would endure. Now, his unfinished job is our job. When the leaders vanish, we all become protagonists. Our life after Madiba will depend on our capacity to imagine and build a just society. We need to start right where he left off.