In his inauguration speech as the first democratically elected president of South Africa in May 1994, Nelson Mandela promised a free, non-racial, and non-sexist society for all South Africans:
“We have triumphed in the effort to implant hope in the breasts of the millions of our people. We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world… The sun shall never set on so glorious a human achievement!”
South Africa is a very different country since 1994. Apartheid, that awful crime against humanity, is abolished. All South Africans now enjoy equal rights as citizens and are not forced to live in their racially segregated areas. Beaches and benches don’t have signs “white only.” Growing affluence among some of the South Africa’s black majority – deprived of education, opportunities, and wealth by apartheid – can now be seen everywhere.
Nonetheless, the legacy of apartheid still haunts the country. White people live in affluent neighborhoods while the majority of blacks live in townships and informal settlements. The contrast is still blatant, even after many of the shacks have been replaced by matchbox houses built by the government.
Nelson Mandela stepped down as the South African president in 1999. After 27 years in prison, he wanted to enjoy his freedom and spend more time with his family.
Where is South Africa standing today when it comes to Mandela’s dream of giving hope to the people, building a society in which all South Africans would live in freedom, peace, and prosperity? How glorious a human achievement is the country today?
South Africa is one of the most dangerous countries in the world, where between 2001 and 2006 more than 100,000 people were murdered, nearly 270,000 raped, and 1.3 million seriously assaulted. Every day, around 50 murders, 150 rapes, and nearly 700 serious assaults are committed. The numbers are probably even higher considering the fact that about 30% of all crimes are not reported.
In 2007 the African Union’s Peer Review Report notes that crime in South Africa is “one of the most difficult of the many challenges facing the country in the post-apartheid era… discouraging investment and causing many skilled people to leave the country.”
When in 2006 many people complained about the crime, the safety and security minister in the South African government publicly invited those who “whine” about the crime and violence to pack their bags and leave the country.
At the same time, the police are seen by many as inefficient and corrupt. Instead of combating crime and violence in the country, the head of the South African police was recently charged with “corruption and defeating the ends of justice.”
It will be interesting to see if South Africa will be able to organize the 2010 Soccer World Cup amid so much crime and violence in the country.
No other country in the world is experiencing devastation caused by HIV/AIDS epidemic like South Africa. AIDS is killing about 1,000 people a day in the country where more than five million South Africans, about 12% of the population, are infected with the virus. More than 2 million people have already died and one in eight of the working-age population is infected with HIV. A large number of the victims are youth, the people who are supposed to be the future of the country.
According to the 2007 African Union’s Peer Review Report, there are “1.2 million AIDS orphans in South Africa, who make up almost 10% of the world’s 15 million such children.”
Current South African president, Thabo Mbeki, and his health minister do not believe that HIV causes AIDS. Mbeki views AIDS as “another Western characterization of Africans as promiscuous and Africa as a continent of disease and hopelessness.” In a speech in 2001, he said that the Western world believes that Africans are “promiscuous carriers of germs, unique in the world… they [the West] proclaim that our continent is doomed to an inevitable mortal end because of our unconquerable devotion to the sin of lust.”
Many in South Africa think that, due to their beliefs, Mbeki and his health minister never did enough to make anti-retroviral drugs available to the infected, especially the poor who cannot afford healthcare.
The fact is that AIDS is killing parents, teachers, workers, and youth. During the international AIDS conference held in South Africa in 2000, it was estimated that half of South African young people will die of AIDS. This disease alone may be the key in destroying Nelson Mandela’s dream of a prosperous South Africa.
In a speech during the international AIDS conference, Nelson Mandela said that “AIDS is currently claiming more lives in Africa than the sum total of all wars, famines and floods, and other deadly diseases… In the face of the great threat posed by HIV/AIDS, we have to rise above our differences and combine our efforts to save our people.”
Yet in 2006, Mbeki’s health minister displayed lemons, beetroots, and garlic on the South African stand at Toronto’s international AIDS conference, promoting nutrition as the best way of treating AIDS. The United Nations special envoy for AIDS in Africa described South African government as “obtuse, dilatory, and negligent about rolling out HIV/AIDS treatment,” and that South Africa’s AIDS policy is “more worthy of a lunatic fringe than of a concerned and compassionate state.”
The economy, after growing by an average of 5% in the past four years, is slowing down this year. The Economist estimates that economic growth in South Africa in 2008 will be between 3 and 4%. Experts estimate that growth of 4.5% between 2005 and 2009, and 6% between 2010 and 2014 are needed to reach a target of halving a near 30% official unemployment rate and rampant poverty. About 50% of South Africans live on less than 3,000 rand ($400) a year, and between 25% and 40%, depending on definitions, have no job, even though the country is Africa’s economic powerhouse and contributes about 25% of its gross domestic product.
South African Mail and Guardian writes that the country will battle to reach 4% growth in 2008 “on the back of a crippling national electricity crisis.” South African mining companies, the country’s main industry, have warned that the shortage of power could force them to cut thousands of jobs.
Until a few years ago, South Africa was producing more electricity than it needed and exporting the surplus to its neighbors. But now, the country is experiencing blackouts on a daily basis that will be a fact of life until at least 2012.
Government officials revealed that they knew a decade ago that more electricity would be needed to support economic growth. But, as The Economist writes, the government got stuck in a policy debate about the role for the private companies in electricity generation, so it was only recently that Eskom, the state-owned monopoly that generates 95% of the country’s electricity, got permission to start building new power stations.
The goal of the Black Economic Empowerment Act, signed into law in January 2004, is to help those who were previously disadvantaged under apartheid.
It is estimated that the black middle class grew to over 2.6 million over the last few years, representing 12% of South Africa's black adults who make around 180 billion rand a year ($26.2 billion), or 28% of the country's buying power.
But critics say that black empowerment has resulted in wealth being taken from the hands of a few white people and put into the hands of a few black people.
The South African Nobel Peace laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, thinks that “attempts to boost black economic ownership are only benefiting an elite minority.” He believes that “grueling, demeaning, dehumanizing poverty experienced by millions of South Africans is the biggest threat to the country’s security.”
Politics, Power Struggle, and Corruption
In December 2007, the African National Congress (ANC), the South African ruling party, had internal elections for the party’s president who is supposed to be the ANC’s candidate for the country’s president in 2009 elections that the ANC is expected to win easily.
Jacob Zuma, who is seen as a populist candidate with support from the left, won a landslide victory over the current country’s president, Thabo Mbeki, who is ending his second and last term in office next year.
Zuma’s trademark during his campaign for the ANC presidency was singing of a song titled “Bring me my machine gun.”
Many in South Africa and around the world cannot believe that Jacob Zuma is now the president of the ANC and possible president of the country, holding the same position once held by Nelson Mandela.
Zuma, then the country’s vice president, was sacked in 2005, following the conviction of his financial adviser for corruption. He was acquitted of rape in 2006, but admitted to having unprotected sex with his HIV-positive accuser. Zuma, who before the rape trial headed the South African National AIDS Council, said in court that he took a shower to minimize the risks of infection.
He claimed that he could tell by the way a woman sat whether she wanted to have sex with him and that his Zulu culture demanded he should oblige her.
As Mandela was leaving office in 1999, South Africa purchased arms and weapons for 30 billion rand (over $4 billion). This happened while the country was facing massive socio-economic problems such as poverty, unemployment, HIV/AIDS catastrophe, and many others.
Currently, there are investigations in South Africa and many European countries into allegations of high-level corruption in connection to the arms deal. Accusations go all the way to the top of the ANC, including Jacob Zuma, whose financial adviser already received a 15-year sentence for fraud and corruption in the arms deal and other transactions.
During the party’s elections in December 2007, the ANC delegates elected seven convicted criminals as members of the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC), party’s second-highest decision-making structure. Six more NEC members are currently subjects of criminal investigations.
Jacob Zuma was recently charged again with fraud, tax evasion, and money laundering and is due in court in August 2008.
These and other high-profile cases have been investigated by the Scorpions, the FBI-style unit independent of the South African Police. Scorpions are seen as the most effective crime-fighting unit in post-apartheid South Africa.
Since Jacob Zuma’s takeover as the ANC president, the ruling party has demanded that the Scorpions be disbanded by June 2008, two months before Zuma is due to go on trial.
South African primary and high school education is in ruins. The Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools maintains that only 2,000 out of 25,000 schools in the country can be called functional. The majority of schools still lack basic infrastructure, equipment, and qualified teachers. The current rate of attrition among teachers is about 20,000 per year.
Children are growing up in a “culture of violence” where violence is normal, and it results in students exhibiting intolerance towards their fellow students in schools. Township schools are particularly vulnerable to violence due to their poor infrastructure and their location in areas with high crime rates.
Some of the factors that cause violence in townships and subsequently in township schools are poverty, dysfunctional family life, high-density housing, a high population turnover, exposure to violence and crime, and the abuse of alcohol and drugs.
A study by the South African Institute of Race Relations reveals that South African schools are the most dangerous in the world. Only 23% of pupils who participated in the study said they felt safe at school. This puts South Africa more than 20% below the worldwide average of 47% of pupils who said that they felt safe at school.
Last year’s African Union’s Peer Review Report notes that the new South Africa is “failing to provide its children with a way out of poverty, damning them to a life of violence and deprivation.”
In 2006 and 2007, 535,000 students left South African schools without any passing certificates and a very uncertain future.
Failure to address problems in South African schools will further increase alienation of students from schools and education, escalate drop-out and crime rates, substance abuse, unemployment, poverty, and overall socio-economic decline. These factors will contribute to a spiraling and destructive cycle of conflict and violence.
After spending 27 years in Robben Island prison, Nelson Mandela came out spreading the message of peace, reconciliation, and hope. He saved South Africa and its people from destruction. His dream was to build a society in which all South Africans would live in freedom, peace, harmony, and prosperity.
Today, South Africa does not look like a glorious human achievement. Millions still live in shacks, without jobs, education, electricity, water, and hope. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), a partner in the governing alliance, claims that about 20 million South Africans who are unemployed and live in poverty “are even worse off than under apartheid.”
Millions are infected with AIDS, while at the same time their government does not believe that HIV is causing AIDS and is not doing enough to provide medicines to the ill who cannot afford them.
Mandela dreamed of non-racial and non-sexist country, yet South Africans are still required to declare their race in all applications and documents. Like during apartheid, skin color plays a major role in getting a job today.
Mandela wrote in Long Walk to Freedom that, “to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Desmond Tutu thinks that “it seems as if we [South Africans] have perverted our freedom into being irresponsible. Rights go hand in hand with responsibility, with dignity, with respect for oneself and for the other.”
In South Africa today, people are not safe anywhere – in homes, schools, streets, parks, at work. The horror stories of sadistic murders and rapes that occur daily have become ordinary. Critics say that moral degradation in South Africa has become a distinctive feature of the new order. These same critics are labeled racist if they are white or “coconuts” (black outside, white inside) if they are black.
A lot of people around the world looked upon the new South Africa, hoping to find in it hope, a model for peaceful resolution of deep-rooted conflicts. The negotiations that ended apartheid are indeed a prime example of how to negotiate and manage deep-rooted conflicts. But the fact that South Africa today is one of the most dangerous countries in the world and with a very uncertain future shows that post-apartheid South Africa is in no way an example to be followed.