The Gaza conflict overshadowed South Africa's commemorations on the 10th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's death on Tuesday, highlighting how the anti-apartheid icon can still mobilise international opinion while his legacy is debated at home.
Senior Hamas officials laid wreaths with Mandela's grandson at a giant statue of South Africa's first black president while Nobel Peace prize winner Malala Yousafzai slammed the "unjust bombardment of Gaza" as she gave a keynote speech.
In the absence of official ceremonies for the leader who died on December 5, 2013 after a long illness, the Palestinian cause that Mandela long espoused took over events.
Palestinian supporters hold the Palestinian flag during the commemorations of the 10th Anniversary of the death of Nelson Mandela in Pretoria. By Roberta Ciuccio (AFP)
His grandson, national assembly member Mandla Mandela, said Mandela considered a Palestinian state "the great moral issue of our time".
"We are carrying on where he left off," Mandla Mandela told national broadcaster SABC as he gathered with a former Hamas minister in Gaza and other representatives of the Palestinian group to lay wreaths at a statue in Pretoria.
Fellow Nobel laureate Malala used the annual Mandela Foundation commemoration to highlight how a child dies "every 10 minutes" in the military assault on Gaza since the unprecedented Hamas attacks of October 7 against Israel.
Israel declared war on Hamas after the militant group's October attacks that killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and which saw around 240 hostages taken, according to Israeli authorities.
In retaliation for the worst attack in its history, Israel has vowed to eradicate Hamas and secure the release of all the hostages held in the Gaza Strip.
The Hamas leaders in Gaza say the war has killed over 16,000 people in the territory, around 70 percent of them women and children.
Malala, in her speech, went on to press a growing campaign for the United Nations to make gender apartheid a crime against humanity, saying the Taliban had "made girlhood illegal" with its clampdown on education for girls.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai participates in a panel discussion after delivering the 21st Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in Johannesburg on Tuesday. By PHILL MAGAKOE (AFP)
South Africans marked the anniversary with a mixture of longing for Mandela's integrity and disappointment over what has happened since.
Many spared a thought for the man who emerged from prison in 1991, bringing pride and hope to a country torn apart by more than four decades of white minority rule.
But after nearly three decades of government by his African National Congress (ANC), inequality has grown, according to the World Bank, corruption is rife and crippling power cuts hit each day.
"Ten years on we still haven't changed much, I wish things could just improve," said Prosper Nkosi, who lives close to Mandela's old house in the Soweto township near Johannesburg.
Johannesburg resident Njabulo Mngadi said South Africa had to rediscover the "Mandela spirit" to bring more reforms.
Nelson Mandela's grandson and South African politician Mandla Mandela speaking in support of the Palestinian struggle in Pretoria on Tuesday. By Roberta Ciuccio (AFP)
"Things are still bad here in South Africa, things are still not right," said Mngadi.
A national election is expected in the first half of 2024 and polls have suggested the ANC's vote share could fall below 50 percent for the first time.
Former US assistant secretary of state and ambassador to South Africa, Jendayi Frazer, highlighted how Mandela's standing "remains extremely high" around the globe despite domestic doubts.
"His saintly international reputation isn't undermined by the challenges the ANC is having today," the US Council on Foreign Relations specialist told AFP.
"If anything, there is a belief that current South African politicians -- of all parties -- would do well to follow Mandela's example of high moral character," she said.
Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 with F.W. de Klerk, the white president who approved Mandela's release from jail in 1990 and then negotiated the end of minority rule.
Dave Steward, chairman emeritus of the F.W. De Klerk Foundation, said Mandela would long be remembered for his work to bring democracy to South Africa.
Nelson Mandela seen with F.W. de Klerk, the president who negotiated an end to white minority rule in South Africa. The pair were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in December 1993. By Philip LITTLETON (AFP/File)
"While we are experiencing many problems that would not make Nelson Mandela happy, he would be happy that we are still a constitutional democracy with functioning courts and a government that obeys the law," Steward told AFP.
"However many years pass, Nelson Mandela's legacy and example will remain important to the present and future of South Africa."
And the vestiges of Mandela's struggle during 27 years in prison and his presidency from 1994 to 1999, will not disappear anytime soon.
He features on banknotes and there are Mandela murals and statues in cities around South Africa and across the world.