South Africa After 25 Years
The Rainbow Nation, it has turned out, was just as elusive as the appearances of colours created by reflection, refraction and dispersion of light.
In the 25 years since those exhilarating days when South Africans stood in long queues to vote in the country’s first democratic elections, the rainbow has faded. We are left with light and shade.
Much as we wish to leave behind the apartheid past, the effects of 350 years of racial oppression and exploitation simply cannot be undone in 25 years. Bygones cannot be bygones simply because they are not gone by.
Apartheid still exists in the ownership of wealth, in the spatial distribution of the population, in opportunities.
A quarter of a century of neoliberal economic policy — a system that has been criticised harshly by successive popes — with its lie of trickle-down benefits, has done little to uplift the poor.
Corruption and indifference by the alliance of new and old oligarchies have further betrayed the poor.
The government’s policy of transformation has served only a few. Too many times, it has concerned itself with the cosmetics of change. Too much time has been spent counting sport teams by race rather than to create sporting facilities and training development for the poor.And in all the talk about transformation, the most transformative agent — education — has been a crucial failure, despite the enormous investment of funds.
And in all the talk about transformation, the most transformative agent — education — has been a crucial failure, despite the enormous investment of funds.
True transformation has been crippled by what President Cyril Ramaphosa has called the “nine lost years” under Jacob Zuma, who presided over a shamelessly corrupt conspiracy to plunder the state with an impunity that amounts to economic and social sabotage.
Some of the kleptocrats and mediocrities from the Zuma era feature high on the African National Congress’ electoral list. On May 8, South Africa’s voters have to decide whether the ANC, after 25 years in charge, merits the nation’s confidence again.
If the ANC is re-elected, as seems plausible, it should beware of hubris. Its electoral success might well be less an endorsement of its governance—there is not much to endorse—than owing to a lack of confidence that the opposition parties would perform any better in improving the condition of the masses.No democracy is served well by the same party being perpetually re-elected. In the ANC, factional contests have supplanted parliamentary competition in deciding the future of the country.
No democracy is served well by the same party being perpetually re-elected. In the ANC, factional contests have supplanted parliamentary competition in deciding the future of the country.
This is how Mr Ramaphosa is able to position himself as an agent for change even as he heads the same party that has failed the nation so miserably, and which he had served as deputy-president.
But the ANC is not a single party in a totalitarian state. Even at its worst, the ANC has acted in a democratic framework which has survived all assaults against it, from the appointment of compliant apparatchiks in key positions to attacks on press freedom.Indeed, civil society’s success in fending off the Protection of State Information Bill (or Secrecy Bill) serves as a potent sign that our democracy is stronger than any political party.
Indeed, civil society’s success in fending off the Protection of State Information Bill (or Secrecy Bill) — symbolised by the huge banner that hung on the facade of St Mary’s cathedral opposite parliament in Cape Town — serves as a potent sign that our democracy is stronger than any political party. It will survive the book burners, too.
The judiciary has withstood all attempts, some of them fierce assaults, to curb its independence. A good slice of credit for that belongs to Constitutional Court Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, who initially was mistaken for a Zuma stooge.
The task of Justice Mogoeng and his colleagues is to protect and uphold the Constitution. That document and the Bill of Rights are among South Africa’s greatest achievements of the past 25 years.
We may list, with due frustration, all the fiascos and iniquities of the past quarter of a century — state capture and other corruption, the promotion of political mediocrities, the legalisation of abortion, the botched transformation process, the failures in education, land reform and crime, the disastrous response to the HIV/Aids crisis, and so on.
At the same time, we must not let the past crush our hopes for the future.
We must acknowledge the successes of the past 25 years, especially in creating a stable democracy based on a Constitution that is the envy of the world.
Our national anthem asks for God’s blessings. Let us pray for South Africa.