More than two decades after Nelson Mandela emerged from prison and overturned apartheid, South Africa still struggles to uplift all of its peoples on a rising tide of prosperity and social equity. The post-apartheid peace dividend and the great and overflowing promise that arrived with Mandela’s presidency in 1994, have been realized only in part, largely because of governance deficiencies and compromised leadership by Mandela’s successors.
A lot has gone right. South Africa’s per capita gross domestic product has been growing, albeit slowly. Democratic processes are the norm, with free and fair elections commonplace. Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) is dominant, but a white-led multi-racial opposition governs one of South Africa’s provinces and has increased its small share of the overall national vote. The judiciary operates largely free of executive interference, unlike so many other African nations. The press is mostly unhampered by the government, again in contrast to much of sub-Saharan Africa, and there are private radio stations competing against the official broadcasting service. Moreover, South Africa does not interfere with social media, the Internet, or cellphone services in the troublesome way that some states in Africa do.
But much has gone wrong, too. Poverty is widespread. The government has been unable to generate the six-per-cent per capita annual growth necessary to provide jobs for its increasing population. According to local economists, no net new formal jobs have been created in at least 30 years. Its levels of formal unemployment, unofficially 40 per cent but officially about 25 per cent, have hardly been reduced. Credit agencies have slashed South Africa’s debt rating, harming already fragile economic growth prospects.
Too few Africans graduate from high school each year, and too few qualify in their high-school leaving examinations to enter university. Thus, South Africa is losing more than it is gaining in the number of young persons with learning or skills. Approximately 500,000 young South Africans fail their school leaving tests and therefore enter the employment market without qualifications. Too few teachers are being trained. New artisans are scarce despite a raft of openings.
South Africans complain that the government has failed, year after year, to build, sell, and rent adequate housing for the myriad citizens who have flooded the cities and attempted to raise families. Squalid slums are still common, many without access to easily available running water or electricity.
Since Mandela’s presidency, his successors Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma have largely failed to deliver the kind of good governance that Mandela’s administration promised. Most of all, corrosive forms of corruption have claimed every corner of South Africa. Padded official employment rolls are common. So are illicit procurement procedures, with few official departments or national or provincial administrations being spared from criticism. Parliamentarians have been caught fiddling their travel accounts. Top police officials have been discharged for consorting with drug lords, putting official property in their own names, and condoning widespread internal embezzlement.
Last summer, the shooting of striking platinum miners by the national police caused widespread consternation. The police actions were reminiscent of apartheid-era procedures and reminded citizens of the ANC’s continued neglect of the poor. More recently, a rogue police detachment dragged an offending taxi-driver behind their vehicle until he died of injuries. Recently, Zuma was pilloried for telling the South African public that South African soldiers were in the coup-prone Central African Republic to train its army when, in reality, they were protecting its now ousted president. Thirteen South African soldiers were killed in April in skirmishes north of Bangui.
President Mbeki lost legitimacy by refusing to accept that HIV-AIDS was a dangerous disease transmitted through sexual contact, refused to acknowledge the evil in President Robert Mugabe’s despotic rule of neighbouring Zimbabwe, and never cracked down on his own country’s rampantly spreading official corruption. President Zuma, has behaved with greater determination regarding Zimbabwe, but his personal profligacy and many wives have hardly helped the battle against HIV-AIDS. Moreover, Zuma leads reluctantly, and generally dithers rather than acting with determination. Neither he nor Mbeki have managed to deliver the much-anticipated post-apartheid dividend.
Change of leadership might restore the hopefulness of Mandela’s years. But it is unlikely that the opposition Democratic Alliance or Agang (Build), a recently established movement led by a gifted medical doctor and former World Bank executive, will be able to overcome the ANC’s historic command of South Africa’s voting faithful.
More likely, change could come from within the ANC itself. At its recent national convention, party members re-anointed Zuma for a further term. But they also elected Cyril Ramaphosa as the new deputy president of the ANC and likely next deputy president of the country. Once Ramaphosa becomes national deputy president, presumably next year, he could be Zuma’s heir apparent in 2019 or before. Widely respected for his intellect, his business acumen, and his integrity, Ramaphosa might just be the person to turn South Africa’s fortunes around. Quite soon, observers will be able to notice whether Ramaphosa can begin reforming the ANC from within, and therefore strengthening South Africa’s governance, or whether the forces of entropy and greed will deter even someone as skilled as Ramaphosa.
This appeared in the Ottawa Citizen, June 24, 2013