South Africa

"Ten years after the end of apartheid, South Africa is struggling with AIDS, poverty, crime -- and the ghosts of its recent past...

"For many observers of the past decade, South Africa has come to epitomize successful "democratic transition." They marvel at what is perceived as the wholesale transformation of South Africa's political and social foundation and the apparent consensus achieved between whites and blacks. This is what has come to be known as the "South African miracle."

"The miracle fable goes something like this: Starting in February 1990, the last apartheid president. F.W. de Klerk, lifted the ban on liberation movements, most notably the African National Congress, released ANC leader Nelson Mandela from prison and reluctantly began negotiations for a new political system. On April 27, 1994, millions of South Africans of all races went to the polls for the first time, for an election that to the surprise of many went ahead peacefully. The results gave the ANC a comfortable majority. Consensus-style rule in a Government of National Unity (GNU) followed during the early phase of democratic rule. Two years later the legislature passed a new Constitution -- one of the most liberal in the world, recognizing abortion rights, same-sex unions and the responsibility of the state to poor citizens -- as well as a number of institutions that "strengthen constitutional democracy" such as a Human Rights Commission and a Commission for Gender Equality. Finally, in one of the most cathartic episodes in post-apatheid history, South African human rights offenders and their victims spoke openly of their experiences before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which put past atrocities on record "to a degree unequalled by any other post-conflict inquiry," as Allister Sparks, a leading South African journalist, puts it in his new book, Beyond the Miracle...

"...South Africa today ranks third among the most unequal societies in the world (after Brazil and Guatemala). Most estimates put poverty at 45 to 55 percent of the population. Unemployment stands at approximately 40 percent. Sixty percent of "Africans" (to use the terminology that apartheid has left tragically relevant) are poor, as compared with one in every hundred whites... under pressure from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank...

"South Africa has lost more jobs since 1994 than any country in history outside of wartime or depression. Land reform is moving forward at a glacial pace, about 3 million people are homeless, 18 million lack sanitation services and privatization has meant that millions more risk losing access to water they can't pay for... In 2000, 40 percent of adult deaths were caused by AIDS-related illnesses, and an estimated 5 million of the country's 45 million citizens are HIV-positive...

"The government's stunning refusal to confront the AIDS crisis -- particularly Mbeki's stubborn insistence, based on the spurious claims of "AIDS dissidents," that HIV does not cause AIDS -- has dominated international coverage of South Africa in recent years...

"...South African businesses and multinational corporations openly aided and abetted the apartheid system...

"Business got off light. Powerful figures in the National Party, notably F.W. de Klerk, didn't do much worse. Bell recounts that in October 1993, as de Klerk was about to depart for Norway to accept his Nobel Prize alongside Mandela, he personally ordered a death-squad raid in the Transkei to destroy an alleged facility of the armed wing of Pan Africanist Congress, a rival liberation movement to the ANC. The death squad attacked a private house in the Transkei capital of Umtata. Five teenage schoolboys who had fallen asleep in front of the television were killed. Hours later de Klerk publicly expressed his approval of the raid, claiming that the victims were "terrorists," and announced the raid's success, displaying color photographs of the bodies. The media and white South Africa lapped it up...

"In Bell's view, South Africa's failure to confront this and other unfinished business of the apartheid era "leaves South Africa crippled in many ways. Corruption and pockets of poisonous racism remain embedded deep within our society." Many of apartheid's senior agents have retained a foothold within the army, the police, the secret services and the civil service, and some of them are still ideologically committed to the cause of racial supremacy" (Sean Jacobs. "The Unfinished Revolution." The Nation, May 17, 2004: 23-29).


Colby Glass, MLIS