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 The contrast is still blatant, even after many of the shacks have been replaced by matchbox houses built by the government.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.”