SAfrica celebrates Mandela, 20 years of democracy

AP News
Posted: Apr 28, 2014 1:10 PM
SAfrica celebrates Mandela, 20 years of democracy

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa's president urged voters to head to the polls next week in the spirit of "democracy and freedom" as he unveiled a large bronze bust of the country's most famous anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela in front of Parliament on Monday.

"May the spirit of Madiba also inspire all South Africans as they vote yet again on the 7th of May," President Jacob Zuma said in Cape Town, referring to Mandela by his clan name and revealing a bronze sculpture on a granite plinth standing more than 2 meters (yards) high.

South Africans are celebrating 20 years of democracy. Mandela's election in 1994 ended decades of white-racist rule and his example of forgiveness after 27 years in prison inspired millions around the world. Mandela died in December at the age of 95.

"The unveiling of this bust confirms that our Parliament, which was once a symbol of white domination, has now been transformed into a progressive institution that upholds the values of unity, equality, freedom and the dignity of all South Africans," Zuma said.

Zuma's comments came as a parliamentary committee investigating allegations of misspending by the president suspended its work so it can be tackled by the next parliament.

The May 7 election is likely to see the ruling African National Congress return to power with a smaller majority than in past elections, reflecting discontent with the movement that led the fight against apartheid.

South Africa boasts a widely admired constitution and an active civil society and the government has delivered housing, water and electricity to millions since 1994, but a wide gap between rich and poor overshadows the many achievements of the "rainbow nation."

South Africa struggles with high unemployment, one of the world's highest rates of violent crime and labor unrest. Zuma has also been criticized because more than $20 million in state funds were spent to upgrade his private rural home.

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela presented a 450-page report in March that concluded the president had inappropriately benefited from state funding and should pay back some money. A special committee set up to consider the president's response to the report on Monday voted to suspend its activities citing a lack of time to complete the work, the ANC said. The move means the new parliament will decide whether or not to reconstitute the committee.

The opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, has called the suspension an attempt to protect the president.

The African National Congress tried to reassure the public that a new parliament wouldn't drop the matter.

"The ANC takes seriously the magnitude of the matter before the ad hoc committee and the necessity for this institution to do a decent job on it. It is for this reason that we will ensure that the next Parliament attends to this matter," it said in a statement Monday.

Simmering unrest about wages in South Africa's mining region saw a home, community hall and municipal center set alight Sunday, before an estimated 4,000 people looted an entire shopping center nearby.

The looted complex was next to Impala Platinum's Number 9 shaft in Rustenburg, northwest of Johannesburg, said police spokesman Brig. Thulani Ngubane. He said it was unclear who was responsible for the looting, but it comes as members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union are in a third month of strikes over pay.

Ngubane said a male was arrested in connection with the arson.