Field Stories

Moving on, or holding back: South Africa, 20 years on from Apartheid

MandelaTwenty years ago, South Africans celebrated on the streets as the Apartheid regime crumbled to dust. Today, jubilation over the demise of the brutal regime comes amid discouragement about the problems South Africa has yet to fix.

Indeed, the system of racial segregation has been dismantled. Homes are no longer invaded when police suspect interracial sex. The mass evictions – by some counts, over 3.5 million were forcibly resettled during the era of Apartheid – are now studied in South African schools.

Yet by some economic measures, South Africa is even less equal than it was at the end of Apartheid. In 1995, a year after Mandela had been released, the country was rated .59 by the GINI coefficient, which measures income inequalities (0 is considered perfect). By 2009, the country’s GINI had risen to .63, according to the World Bank. Today, 63% of black children live in households that earn less than £44 per month, compared with only 4% of white children. 70% of South Africa’s land remains white-owned.

“Inequality is the new Apartheid,” writes Simon Kuper in the Financial Times. “Your life path is largely determined before birth. The ruling classes pass on their status by sending their children to exclusive schools, much like in apartheid Johannesburg.”

The African National Congress (ANC), which has remained in power since elected under Nelson Mandela two decades ago, has taken steps to address poverty and can point to many success stories. Since Apartheid ended, more than three million modern homes have been built by the government, women play a far more prominent role in public life and South Africa has become, by many measures, the most developed country on the continent.

However, some are convinced the ANC is at least partially to blame for the setbacks the country is experiencing today. A report from the Times, South Africa’s most popular newspaper, discusses the small and large municipalities being “eaten away” by corruption and mismanagement.

“Corruption runs rampant and is not dealt with firmly because of party loyalties or inefficiencies in the system”, writes analyst Max du Preez in his recently published book, South Africa’s Suspended Revolution.

Distrust in the police reached an all-time high two years ago after officers killed 34 striking workers in August 2012 at a mine in Marikana, northwest of Johannesburg. Recent news stories have also highlighted the lack of police accountability; in Cape Town, many wealthy citizens live in fortified compounds patrolled by multiple private security firms, while those in townships – where 80% of crimes actually take place – must rely on an inefficient police force.

F.W. de Klerk, the nation’s last white president, sought to strike a more hopeful note in a statement he released on the anniversary of Apartheid’s demise. “For 20 years, millions of South Africans have been able to lead their lives and pursue their dreams in conditions of relative peace, personal dignity and harmony”, he wrote. “Despite all our challenges, South Africa today is a much better and fairer country than it was before 27 April 1994.”




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