, CAPE TOWN, Feb 11 – Nelson Mandela will make a rare public appearance Thursday to hear South Africa\’s state-of-the-nation address, 20 years after his release from apartheid prison triggered the fall of white rule.
The 91-year-old will take centre stage when he arrives in parliament around 7:00pm (1700 GMT), his only public commemoration of the day in 1990 when he emerged from 27 years behind bars.
His ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, one of the first to welcome him on his release, will re-enact his historic walk from a prison outside Cape Town, the ruling African National Congress said.
Zuma will be looking to bask in the glow of the anniversary as he delivers his speech to a nation up in arms over the latest scandal over his personal life.
For the last 12 days, the media has focussed on the four-month-old baby fathered by the 67-year-old president with the daughter of a top World Cup organiser. She is neither one of Zuma\’s three wives nor his fiancee.
Zuma on Saturday expressed his regret over the pain that the scandal had caused the nation.
But newspaper editorials have continued to denounce the president\’s behaviour, with critics saying it makes a mockery of South Africa\’s efforts to fight AIDS.
With Mandela sitting nearby, Zuma is expected to tap into the optimism of two decades ago, while giving a frank roadmap of the way forward in the year South Africa hosts football\’s World Cup.
Zuma campaigned in last year\’s general elections with promises to fight poverty in a nation where the gap between rich and poor has become the widest in the world.
The hope and joy that greeted Mandela\’s release and the first elections four years later have given way to scrutiny and cynicism as the government has struggled to meet expectations, especially those of the poor, analysts say.
Since the ANC won the first all-race elections 16 years ago, South Africa has seen huge strides in housing, electricity and sanitation and a growing black middle class.
But unemployment remains officially at nearly 25 percent, some 5.7 million of South Africa\’s 48 million people have HIV, and crime averages 50 killings a day.
"The challenges for Zuma going ahead are tremendous," said Frans Cronje of the South African Institute of Race Relations.
Zuma\’s speech will aim to resonate with South Africans\’ daily experiences, hoping to placate public frustrations by admitting the government\’s failures, Cronje told AFP.
"All of that will come to nothing if they cannot fix the basic things that are wrong like the hospitals, the schools and the police stations," he said.
"Some of the shine is fading. I think certainly the concept of the miracle rainbow nation is largely gone, except in the eyes of the naive international observers."