A few people have asked me to blog on this topic because I have studied South Africa, its development and politics, the ANC and Mandela and can provide a deeper analysis than commentators who just read the news on South Africa occasionally or have read “The long walk to freedom”. My interest started whenI first visited the nation and has been furthered over another 4 visits. This post is directed at addressing the questions surrounding the future of South Africa post-Mandela. Whilst some might say that the post-Mandela era began in 1999 when he left power I believe that the ANC has been reliant on the ‘myth’ and sentiment surrounding Mandela and this rather than policy has been central to the ANC’s continued electoral dominance. With Mandela’s passing I do hope that South Africa will be able to look towards the future and thus fully deliver much of the vision laid out by Mandela on the night he was elected in 1994 to “…begin to build a better life for all South Africans. This means creating jobs, building houses, providing education and bringing peace and security for all”
The following information is not an attempt to demean Mandela’s achievements or those of the ANC in ending Apartheid, just to indicate my criticism of how the country has been governed since the radical transformation of Mandela’s initial term as President.
The ANC played a vital role in ending Apartheid and indeed establishing some semblance of stability and reconciliation after the system fell. However, it was this exact same importance that has led the country down the wrong path. The precedence that the ANC gained from being the party that ended Apartheid caused in my opinion negligent handling of the country after Mandela’s term. The ANC essentially crafted a single party state where their share of the vote did not drop below 60%. With the one party state the only performance benchmark was to outperform the conditions seen under Apartheid. Those in power had no real experience at any stage of the legislative or bureaucratic process and this created a wildly optimistic legislative agenda with no real progression of goals and additionally created an environment that was ripe for corruption. Corruption may be the single most damaging issue for South Africa as the R30 Billion that is lost annually equates to more than South Africa’s annual education budget. Corruption has also increased the cost of goods by as much as 20%.
It is my belief that with the passing of Mandela South Africa may be able to move beyond the ANC and look to a different party or parties to be able to finally tackle the country’s problems. For years other parties have campaigned but have failed to gain wide support; 13 other parties are represented in Parliament. The country may now consider a wider range of parties and select the best candidate and not just vote for the ANC. After all when looking at the track record of President’s Mbeki and Zuma we see that their terms in power were shadowed by economic failure, corruption, one of the most expensive yet least effective education systems in Africa, AIDS denialism and failure among other things to tackle the scourge of rape and violence against women. Of course these things existed under Apartheid but it is shocking is how prevalent they still are today. The ANC today does not consist of the nations’ most talented but of those put there by cronyism. Additionally some of Mandela’s great work for tolerance and understanding in race relations has started to become undone following the damaging example of Zuma who sang the controversial ‘shoot the Boer’ song which however you try and justify it is at least incredibly inappropriate for the leader of a country with sensitive race issues to be singing.
Mandela once said that freedom from poverty was “a fundamental human right”, without going into the semantics of ‘rights’ we could say that measured by this statement South Africa has a pretty dire human rights record. The ANC has done little to lift its people out of poverty and has implemented successive initiatives that have each individually failed. South Africa’s Gini coefficient measure of inequality is 0.62 in 2012 up from 0.49 in 1975 under apartheid. To add some context a Gini score of 0 is perfect income inequality whilst 1 equates to total inequality.
Whilst Mandela’s role in ending Apartheid and leadership of the country were truly monumental, the continued reliance of the country on him and the ANC has been immensely damaging. I believe that with Mandela’s death, very sad though it is, that the country may feel able to look towards alternative parties to balance the excesses of the ANC and provide new ideas and leadership that may help it address challenges such as high unemployment, which is broadly about 25%, even estimated to be as high as 50% in some studies. South Africa may have a bright future ahead of it, but only if the ANC becomes a part of that future and not the sole director of it.