THE BIG READ: Keeping the faith
The head teacher at one of the many new schools built by Nelson Mandela's ANC held out his hands in anguish.
"I don't have enough textbooks, and the president is spending all our money on his personal palace."
A loyal ANC voter, he feels betrayed. As do millions of others - but not with the fact that President Jacob Zuma hasn't solved all the country's problems.
The head teacher knew only too well that the awful legacy of apartheid - mass poverty, homelessness and, above all, the deliberate policy by ruling whites to ensure blacks had no skills - could never be overturned in 19 years of democracy. That wasn't his gripe.
He was proud that the ANC was now spending more per head on education than almost any other country in the world.
What pained him was that ANC leaders now seemed to be preoccupied with enriching themselves at the taxpayers' expense, not staying true to Mandela's values.
"They are looting the country," ANC members told me time and again as I travelled around this amazing and beautiful country.
For me, it was a moving homecoming, going back to my old school in Pretoria to see it transformed into a vibrant symbol of the country's rainbow multiracialism; in my day, in the early 1960s, apartheid decreed it was strictly whites only.
I met Dikgang Moseneke, South Africa's deputy chief justice, in his chambers in the Constitutional Court. The court guards perhaps the most impressive constitution in the world. He recalled how, as a 15-year-old, he had been bolstered by the supportive presence in court of my anti-apartheid activist mother, Adelaine, who daily brought him a bar of his favourite chocolate before he was despatched to Robben Island for 10 years.
The country remains joyously transformed from dark and evil apartheid times.
And yet the persistent sense of betrayal goes well beyond what I know only too well from my own 12 years as a British government minister: seemingly inevitable voter disappointment and disaffection with all parties in all governments.
On Robben Island, I talked with Ahmed Kathrada, one of the eight ANC leaders imprisoned there for 18 years with Nelson Mandela, and perhaps the inmate closest to him.
Kathrada's sense of disillusion was palpable, as was that of Ronnie Kasrils, the intelligence chief of the ANC during the struggle and a minister until Zuma took over.
When I interviewed Zuma, he airily dismissed all these criticisms.
On chairs set up on the lawn in front of his state residence overlooking Pretoria - a fine old period piece now called Mahlambandlopfu - he blamed "negative" media reporting.
Last August's massacre of striking miners at Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine outside Rustenburg symbolised, for many, all that is wrong with Zuma's South Africa.
It was "a watershed for the ANC", Kasrils told me bluntly.
Filming at Marikana, I was told by lawyers representing the families of the dead miners that the massacre was pre-planned.
I saw chilling testimony that 22 of the dead were allegedly executed in cold blood (away from the initial clash in front of the media, which had left 12 dead). Guns were allegedly planted on some of the corpses. I met witnesses who claimed to have been intimidated and even tortured by the police. This was as bad as anything unleashed by the apartheid police.
Although a new black elite has done well, black workers have not benefited much from the country's growth since democracy came in 1994.
This has to change, especially since South Africa is ranked high in both the UN's measure of attractiveness for foreign direct investment and the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business Index, with strong financial institutions, banks and stock market, and good corporate governance and regulatory framework.
For the ANC, the political challenges today are momentous. Can it make government a Mandela-like "cause" once again, or has the sheer wear and tear of governing coupled with an "our-time-to-eat" temptation to self-enrich made that impossible?
Mandela's ANC inspired the world, and though there has since been a collapse in values and integrity by self-interested party leaders locally and nationally, there remain many decent, dedicated and principled ANC members, and its policies are still based upon the original values of the founders.
Cyril Ramaphosa's recent election as deputy president is potentially hugely significant: he was Mandela's personally favoured successor back in the 1990s.
Perhaps we all expected too much of the ANC for it to be different when, despite its deep moral traditions, it is just as vulnerable to human frailty as political parties the world over - and with immensely more social inequalities than most to grapple with.
There is a tendency to see post-apartheid South Africa in black and white terms: either as "Mandela's miracle" or as going down the tubes.
It is neither - and never was. I remain optimistic about its future. - © The Sunday Telegraph
- Former anti-apartheid campaigner Hain has made the film South Africa: The Massacre that Changed a Nation