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Anti-apartheid campaigner cautiously optimistic on SA

Sunday 8 Dec 2013 5:03 p.m.

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Veteran anti-apartheid campaigner John Minto believes Nelson Mandela's death may refocus the world's attention on the plight of poor South Africans.

Nearly 20 years after the Mandela-led African National Congress took control of the republic, many of its black population still live in poverty.

Not quite a long walk to freedom, Mr Minto was tramping through Tongariro National Park when he heard of Mr Mandela's death.

"It's something that you expect for a long time, but it still hits you when it happens," he says. "I have very mixed feelings about it really."

To be fair, he's had mixed feelings about post-apartheid South Africa for some time. I was with him in 2009 when he made his first visit to the country whose civil rights he fought so hard for. Mr Mandela's cell on Robben Island was particularly moving.

Mr Minto was offered a Presidential award for his services to South Africa. He turned it down because he doesn't believe the ruling African National Congress Government has made the changes he and others fought for.

Blacks still struggle with poverty, poor housing and education. Mr Minto says the ANC has traded too long on Mr Mandela's good name.

"Mandela has provided a cover of respectability for the African National Congress and has been trotted out to encourage people to support them in general elections even since he stepped down as president," says Mr Minto. "But I think that cover of respectability is going to go away very rapidly."

And if South Africa is looking for a new godfather figure to lead that change, Mr Minto says they need look no further than Cape Town's former Archbishop, Desmond Tutu.

"What he says will carry even more weight now that Mandela has passed away because Desmond Tutu has been very critical of the corruption that exists in South Africa, particularly the upper echelon of the ANC," says Mr Minto.

He says Mr Mandela's real legacy may still come in the sort of social and economic development all of South Africa can enjoy.

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