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JOHANNESBURG – Now that Nelson Mandela has been buried, South Africans will be renewing their focus on issues facing their nation. Mandela's vision of a prosperous "rainbow nation" remains largely unfulfilled, and many South Africans still live in poverty. These are some of the challenges facing South Africa:
Mandela's reputation of high integrity has not been automatically transferred to his successors. President Jacob Zuma faces harsh criticism over allegations that the government used roughly $21 million of taxpayer funds for security updates at his rural private home. Investigations are underway, with reports due early next year. But the allegations — and other instances of the political elite putting personal gain ahead of public responsibilities — have already cut public support for the African National Congress, which has governed since the first democratic elections in 1994.
A local Sunday Times survey found that just over half of the ANC voters it polled believe Zuma should resign over the allegations — a striking indication of public disillusionment ahead of next year's general election.
South African author William Gumede, senior fellow at St. Antony's College in Oxford, England, said the corruption allegations and other negative perceptions have eroded Zuma's credibility, especially when people compare him to Mandela.
"To govern a country like South Africa, you need to persuade people, you need some kind of integrity and believability, but people don't believe him because of the allegations of corruption," Gumede said. "We are in a difficult economic position, we've stalled on many things. It won't be easy for him to turn things around."
However the ANC is still expected to win national elections in 2014 — the exact date hasn't been set yet — and with Zuma elected last year as president of the liberation movement-turned political party, he is virtually assured of winning a second term as president of South Africa.
SLOW ECONOMIC GROWTH AND CONTINUED INEQUALITY :
South Africa's blacks have full political rights and there is a growing black middle class, but many blacks remain deep in poverty. Youth unemployment is extremely high, with one out of two people under 25 without a job. The International Monetary Fund predicts continued slow economic growth that will be "insufficient to reduce unacceptably high unemployment."
Adrian Guelke, a South African professor who specializes in conflict resolution at Queen's University in Northern Ireland, said the government has been unable to meet widespread expectations that democracy would bring a dramatic transformation in the quality of life for most South Africans. He said it is not surprising that there are signs of unhappiness 19 years after democracy took hold with the country's first all-race elections, in 1994.
"They were expected to carry out greater change," he said. "Now there seems to be a lot of disappointment. Most people think inequality has actually grown, in part because of global factors. It's obviously a problem."
VIOLENCE AND SUSPECTED COVERUPS
There have been a string of violent events in the last two years that have raised anxiety levels, and crime remains a problem. In August 2012, police shot dead 34 striking miners at the Marikana platinum mine, reminding some of the lethal attacks on miners and other union workers during the apartheid era.
To compound the problem, a government panel concluded in September that South African police had lied about the incident, withheld some documents and altered others during an official investigation of the killings. Evidence presented to the investigating commission has indicated some miners were shot in the back as they tried to get away and some were killed after they had already been wounded. The findings and other cases of alleged police misconduct have raised tough questions about police integrity.
The Marikana hearings are to resume next year after the holidays.
SOUTH AFRICA'S SCHOOLS STILL LAG BEHIND
National leaders have emphasized that education and training offer the best long-term solution to lingering disparity between the races — and to easing poverty. But improvements to the public schools have been slow, leaving many South Africans far behind in the increasingly competitive information age.
J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, said South Africa ranks below most African nations in education tests on mathematics and science and is more or less equivalent with Yemen, near the bottom of international tables.
"Education is a serious challenge," he said. "You are at a reflection point now, and you've got two scenarios: Either you reform education, open the economy further, and you get a trend toward a brighter future, or you don't fix the education sector and you end up in a pretty bad position, with unemployment skyrocketing and possible social unrest."