In Soweto, Remembering Mandela As A Figure Of Resistance

While the world remembers Nelson Mandela as the great reconciler, some ordinary South Africans are remembering him in their own way — as a powerful figure of resistance. And they're looking toward the country's future with both hope and uncertainty.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. The remembrances for Nelson Mandela are being spread out over more than a week. People around the world want to pay their respects, including the dozens of dozens of world leaders who attend a service in a soccer stadium on Tuesday.

First, Mandela's fellow South Africans get their chance. They are considering his legacy in a nation transformed, but still troubled. NPR's Gregory Warner reports.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: Sunday morning outside the African Gospel Church on Mooki Street in Soweto, Pastor Mandla Mpanza is sitting in his gold-colored Mercedes. An iPad is propped against the wheel. It's the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for Nelson Mandela, and Mpanza is jotting down some ideas for his sermon.

PASTOR MANDLA MPANZA: He was an epitome of peace, forgiveness, love, selflessness. You know, he's been a great man of our lives.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WARNER: Same morning, another church just next door, Eric Zulu has just finished his Remembrance Day sermon. Zulu drives a 1998 Volkswagen, by the way. But his theme for today's remarks is almost identical.

PASTOR ERIC ZULU: We mustn't fight. We mustn't segregate. We must love one another.

(SOUNDBITE OF CARS AND ROAD)

WARNER: OK. I'm now going to cross to the other side of Mooki Street - not the side with all the churches - because here you can find another aspect of Mandela's character. Not just the man of reconciliation, but the man of resistance, the fighter.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLANGING GATE)

WARNER: OK. So, we're here in the DOCC. That's the Donaldson Orlando Community Centre, where Nelson Mandela used to train as a boxer.

(SOUNDBITE OF PUNCHING)

WARNER: Mandela once wrote that the appeal of boxing for him was not the violence, but the science of the sport. He wrote that he was, quote, "intrigued by how one moved one's body to protect oneself, how one used the strategy both to attack and retreat."

A photo of a young Mandela in boxing gloves hangs on the brick wall of this gym. Thirty-two-year-old Maybee Mfecane finishes his bag routine, and stops to catch his breath.

MAYBEE MFECANE: Yeah. I used to - because I have a videotape of Mandela boxing, you see. So that's when I started to realize that Mandela was a boxer. It was a surprise to me. I didn't know that.

WARNER: Mfecane doesn't earn his living in the ring. He installs security cameras. And in Soweto, he says he's lucky to have a job. There's a growing resentment of foreigners blamed for taking jobs away from South Africans.

MFECANE: You know, the Pakistanis are here. The Nigerians are here. You know, I heard the rumor that there's going to be a riot after Mandela funeral.

WARNER: Something violent.

MFECANE: Yeah. Something violent.

WARNER: Most people don't fear xenophobic riots on Sunday, the day that Nelson Mandela will be buried in his ancestral home of Qunu. And things have been peaceful so far. But South African security will be out in large numbers - a reminder of the troubled history of Soweto, where people don't just associate Mandela with the great acts of peace that he did when he got out of prison. They also remember him for the political violence that they did in his name while he was still incarcerated. Those riots of the 1970s and '80s forced the world, and the government of South Africa, to pay attention.

Back on the church side of the street, Eric Zulu is worried that rising xenophobia and racial tension in South Africa is a symptom of a larger problem.

ZULU: If we can finish corruption and stick to what Mandela has laid for us. So I was reminding the young ones going to the elections next year: They must choice right people.

WARNER: Consumer confidence here is at a 20-year low. That means that at no time since Mandela became president have South Africans been more pessimistic about their economic future. Mandela once said that he was stubborn for peace. But Zulu worries that, two decades after apartheid, South Africans are losing patience with the pace of change.

ZULU: You'll find ourselves divided here. And yet, we've got such a good foundation from this great man. If we can miss it, it's our own Ndaba.

WARNER: Our own Ndaba, he says, our own story: the new story that South Africans will have to write without Nelson Mandela as their guide.

Gregory Warner, NPR News, Johannesburg.

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