INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: by Jeffry Babb News Weekly
South Africa - flawed, but not yet fractured
, December 8, 2012
One may expect an expatriate South African journalist — a notoriously cynical breed — bearing one of the most illustrious names in Afrikanerdom to be bitter about her homeland, but she is not. She is cautiously optimistic. Charmaine Pretorius, a former high-flying journalist with the South African Press Trust, says South African democracy is flawed, but it isn’t broken.
Andries Pretorius (1798-1853) was the leader of the voortrekkers, who set off with their ox wagons and families into the veldt to escape the British and to practise their religion as they saw fit. Despite two Boer Wars, the British never fully controlled the Afrikaners. Until Freedom Day on April 27, 1994, the Afrikaners ruled South Africa. Since then, all South Africans, regardless of race, can vote for their government.
The Afrikaners are mainly of Dutch Calvinist origin, with an admixture of German and French Huguenot blood. Although the Afrikaners wanted only to be left in peace, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State sat atop untold riches in gold and diamonds. The Afrikaners could have been very rich had they been miners, but they were farmers. Black South Africans were always regarded as children of a lesser God.
Eventually, after years of crippling economic boycotts, guerrilla warfare and political isolation, the white South Africans gave in and decided that majority rule was the only way forward for the country. By the time majority rule came to South Africa, the African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela was already an old man. Given the potential for violence, what ensued was a near miraculous handover of power.
What has happened since? While many countries in sub-Saharan Africa are finding a new economic vigour and are flourishing, South Africa is stagnating. South Africa’s commercial and economic infrastructure may be the envy of Africa, but within a decade it is likely it will be overtaken in terms of total economic output by Nigeria.
Moody’s, the most authoritative credit-ratings agency, cut South Africa’s sovereign credit rating, meaning it will have to pay more to borrow on international money markets. Moody’s cited the declining quality of government, growing social stresses and worsening conditions for investment.
While most white South Africans still enjoy incomes and living conditions comparable to those found in the developed world, most black South Africans do not. The unemployment rate for blacks is 29 per cent; among whites it is a mere 6 per cent. Youth unemployment for blacks is said to be over 50 per cent.
Many foreign investors say that South Africa’s absurd minimum wage levels make it impossible to operate profitably. Following riots in August this year at the Marikana platinum mine, where dozens of striking workers were shot dead by the police, a wave of unrest has spread through the mining sector. South Africa’s mines, which once produced 70 per cent of the world’s gold, are now laying off thousands of workers. South Africa is now only the world’s fifth largest gold-producer.
Much of the labour unrest can be put down to frustration with a government that promised so much and delivered so little. Many blacks are better housed and have access to basic services such as running water, but many more still live on only a few dollars a day.
“Black empowerment” has created a tiny upper stratum of fabulously wealthy black billionaires, while South African society has become more unequal. The Gini coefficient, which is the most accepted measure of inequality, reveals that in the 18 years since the first Freedom Day, the nation has become less — not more — equal.
Unequal though it is, South Africa is still a magnet for immigrants from other less wealthy African countries. Black South Africans are fiercely intolerant of these immigrants, whom they see as unwelcome competition. Black South Africans realise the government won’t do much for them; they have to help themselves.
South Africa has not fallen to pieces. The ANC still regularly scores over 60 per cent of the vote, while the Democratic Alliance, a potential rival, is seen as “too white” by most black South Africans. The South African Communist Party still wields unhealthy influence over the ANC.
Some say, “Today’s leaders gained their power through fighting the apartheid regime in the bush. Can you really expect them to drop their AK47s and start providing lilywhite government?”
Most South Africans no longer expect miracles from the ANC. They want schools that educate their children (most don’t), streets that are safe to walk at night (most aren’t), and access to employment (millions are jobless).
South Africa has not become a colour-blind workers’ paradise, as the Left would have had us believe. Nor has it collapsed, as the doomsayers predicted. But a reasonable person would have to say South Africa is a disappointment.
Being a country rich in natural resources is one thing, but getting gold and platinum out of the ground profitably is another thing entirely. Afrikaner farmers are being pushed off their land, and agricultural output will fall.
South Africa is a cracked vessel, but it is not broken like neighbouring Zimbabwe — yet.