About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

South Africa - April 1997

Padraig O'Malley

Those who were witness to the scenes on 26 April 1994 will never forget them: black South Africans, the erstwhile permanently disenfranchised, the despised kaffirs, coming in their tens of thousands, and in their millions, from the dilapidated shacks in make-shift squatter-camps abutting palatial dwellings in the glittering white suburbs, from shantytowns beyond the reach of the First World, from the conclaves of small communities hidden in the crevices of unmapped valleys crossing the breath of a vast and unforgiving terrain, free at last to cast their votes in South Africa's first non-racial election, free at last after 300 years of colonial/settler rule and almost 50 years of the abomination of apartheid to assert their humanity and reclaim their self-esteem.

Extraordinary sights abounded. Endless lines of men and women, many with babies hitched to their backs, waiting silently at 5 a.m. for the ballot stations to open. They came with their unarticulated dreams of what a new South Africa might mean to their lives. Some had trudged through the dark night for three or four hours to reach their polling stations; some would stand in line for eight to ten hours, uncomplaining under the blaze of a ferocious sun, unfazed by the seemingly endless delays before they got to cast their ballots, some limped, some were carried, some leaned hard on their walking sticks for support. But nothing would deter them.

Many had waited a lifetime for this moment, making the experience a religious rather than a political one: there was no exuberance, not even a hint of celebration, as if they were in awe of the act they were committing, profoundly aware of the significance of the ritual they were engaged in, of the fusion of sacrament and sacrifice, the living bearing witness to the birth of a new nation on behalf of the countless dead who gave epiphany to the moment.

Garnishing 63 per cent of the vote, the African National Congress (ANC) savoured the fruits of its victory, the vindication of its titanic struggle for the recognition of black people as ordinary human beings. Two weeks after the election Nelson Mandela, the one-time terrorist incarcerated for 27 years, was sworn in as the president of the Republic of South Africa on the brown-stone steps of the Union Buildings, the citadel of Afrikaner power on Pretoria's eastern edges, before an assembly of over 100 world leader, an adoring crowd of hundreds of thousands, and the admiring gaze of millions across the world on television.

In a world in which the cause of the just and the right seldom triumph, this was a moment of God's truth, the culmination, in the eyes of many, of a miracle: justice not only done but seen to be done with a transparency transmogrified by the brilliance of the sun and the light that bathed and finally enveloped the grey monuments of oppression that haunted Pretoria's past; indeed, that had haunted all of South Africa's past.

On this, the third anniversary of the new South Africa's mirabile dictu, it behooves us to ask where South Africa stands, whether it is making good on its promises of democratic transformation, and whither the thrust of the democracy it is pursuing.

Transitions are by their nature untidy things. The expectations so easily excited during the emotion-filled campaigns that precede the first democratic elections are rarely fulfilled. The promises of change, invariably carrying with them the intimations of better standards of living, wither, for the most part, on the vine of broken promises; the would-be revolutionaries and the visionary agents of massive social and economic transformation find themselves prisoners of circumstances beyond their control, and what appeared reasonable and sensible and equitable in the madness preceding the elections become hostage to vested interests and bureaucratic endgames that leave their proponents discombulated and often bewildered as they struggle to get their hands on the levers of power --a practice often more honored in the breach.

And so it has come to pass in South Africa. The euphoria is gone. Disaffection has displaced enthusiasm, and although disillusionment has not yet reached an ugly threshhold, it threatens to undermine the ethos that is a prerequisite for the incubation of a democratic culture that will whether the travails of discontent and the almost Apollonian resort to mass mobilization on the part of the people that is one of the residual responses to the legacy of apartheid.

There is not one South Africa, but several; not one transition, but several; each one at a different stage of development, each one unique in its own right, each one having a relationship with the others, no matter how fragile; in the end, all must acknowledge their mutual interdependencies. The strongest province is only as strong as the weakest. Either South Africa gets a better grip on the things that make for these differences, or it will sink under the weight of its own contradictions.

Despite a democratic parliament and a plethora of democratic institutions, albeit many are at the embryonic stage, an executive that prides itself on transparency, a president whose moral completeness overwhelms lesser mortals, a constitution and bill of rights that are among the most enlightened in the world, a constitutional court that already has flexed its muscle in the exercise of its constitutional mandate, there is a malaise among the people that things are not quite going the way they should -- not that they are not going in the right direction, but that the frustration and disappointment with promises not kept has bred skepticism, that if unaddressed does not augur well for the future.

Much of the unease can be directly attributed to what amounts to a virtual collapse in law and order, a proliferation of crime, especially violent crime, that has unnerved the country, put its leaders on the defensive in the face of accusations that it cannot deliver on the first responsibility of government, and added to the unstated assumptions of intolerance that poison the well of racial reconciliation.

For what its worth, South Africa has the dubious distinction of being one of the most violent, if not the most violent country in the world.

The rate of crime in South Africa, according to recent research, has increased at double the rate of population over the last four years. Statistics compiled by the South African Police Services (SAPS) indicate that there were approximately 160,000 unsolved murders at the end of 1996 -over 100,000 more than in 1988. Also, say the police, 94 people out of 100,000 of the population were murdered in 1996, compared with 74 out of 100,000 in 1988.

In France and Germany, the latest comparable figures are; in the US it is eight. South Africa is the world's most murderous country, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), with an average of 45 per 100,000 people murdered there each year, 800% higher than the world average of 5.5 people per 100,000 for the 122 countries that it studied.

The same pathology can be seen in other trends involving violent crime. In South Africa, there is an assault rate of 840 per 100,000 compared to an international average of 142. The rape figure is 118 out of each 100,000 people, in France it is seven, in Germany fourteen, and in the US forty-one. In other words, a rape occurs in South Africa every 83 seconds. Ironically, given the pervasive perception that apartheid-South Africa was a police-state, country-wide the figure is 2.5 police per 1,000 population in contrast to the international standard which ranges from 3.0 to 5.0 per 1,000.

With the demise of the legal apparatus of apartheid, the South African Police (SAP), renamed the South African Police Service (SAPS), found itself increasingly irrelevant to the maintenance of law and order; increasingly inwardly-looking, not so much out of the need for philosophic introspection to develop a new ethos, as out of a concern to protect its own and put the blinkers on the murky past.

Impaired discipline, a confused sense of identity, an inability to define what it stood for, (once upon a time kicking pure black ass was the stepping-stone to a career full of promise), an inarticulate sense of mission, the collapse of morale, inevitable in the face of far-reaching change in the making, took their toll and practically eliminated much of the SAPS's effectiveness as the crime-fighting agency of the new state.

But, as in all efforts involving attempts to pump massive transfusions of new blood into dying organs, the police, too, find themselves on the same resuscitator. Sometimes, the transfusions are insufficient to stave off the inevitable hemorrhages. Sometimes, the new blood simply won't do the trick. One in ten policemen is involved in corruption; some 300 to 400 leave the force every month.

The price the police pay in the face of challenges they are not trained to face, of dangers no longer founded on the ideological certitudes of apartheid and the Total Onslaught, of the fragmentation of the tight-bonding based on what are now discredited values, of a camaraderie that was as much a product of fear of exposure as of the conspiratorial allures of unrestrained powers, of demands made which they are simply incapable of meeting, is enormous.

The present holds little hope of role-resolution, has yet, despite intensive training programs, to kindle a sense of a sustainable identity. Indeed, in a paradoxical way, given the exigencies the SAPS is laboring under, would-be applicants should be automatically disqualified.

In the confusion of their own magnificent (or horrific) ignorance of what is right and wrong; of the misgivings that erode the top-soil of the super-imposed self-awareness that has become a mandated requirement for understanding their role in a society that is trying desperately to erase the value-system that was their raison det're , they turn inward and look for disciplines they were thought to eviscerate.

Left to the well-meaning rhetoric of their new "superior" superiors who wish to imbue them with principles that they were trained to abhor if they were to care one whiddling shit about survival in the asylums of the townships they were supposed to bring order to, they are drowning in the quicksand of their own doomed sense of professional and personal oblivion.

The suicide rate among the SAPS is, like most statistics associated with the darker, more despairing side of South Africa, among the highest in the world. For every 100,000 police personnel in South Africa, 200 commit suicide. The comparable figure for the United States is 22.

Car hijackings are endemic. What has become far more ominous, however, is the degree of violence that accompanies the thefts. People who hand over their cars without the slightest resistance are shot on the spot; people who are unlucky enough to be passengers in cars whose drivers are assaulted at traffic-lights or other locations especially susceptible to hijackings are sometimes found murdered, their bodies dumped into convenient swamps or vacant land-lots.

A few years ago, certain types of routine, some urban areas or specific locations of social unrest could be pinpointed as "most likely" targets of opportunity for would-be hijackers. But no longer. One's own home is no longer a haven. The impact on whites has been traumatic; the psychic effect devastating. Their discovery that fortress-like homes, state-of-the-art security, ten-foot high, unclimbable brick-walls topped by chocolate-like layers of razor wire, seemingly unassailable "cactus" spikes strategically placed to give pause to the most adventurous or entrap the least cautious, the electric wires that stun with their discharge of voltage guard against nothing, offer no protection are Maginot lines preserving illusion. When all is said and done and counted, they are no more than "sitting ducks" all notions of the privacy of the home and fail-proof protection have been eviscerated. Whites have been condemned permanently to being on guard; they are foot-soldiers in the ranks of the "bewarers."

Figures, of course, fall short of giving any understanding of the predatory dimensions of the crime-levels that infest communities across South Africa; they fail to acknowledge that the problem is systemic, that contrary to the conventional wisdom, the sum of the parts never add up; they reduce injury and death to cursory abstractions. Yet, the figures convey a frightening sense of the underlying malevolence: Close to 750,000 violent crimes, 100,000 car-hijacking (increasing at the rate of 30% a year), and 62,000 armed robberies are reported to the police every year. In other words, an average of 99 serious crimes are committed every hour - one every 35 seconds, a rape every 83 seconds, an armed robbery every seven minutes.

Police investigators solved only 52% of violent crimes, and a meager 26% of the armed robberies; a staggering 200,000 serious crimes remain unsolved. Only one in ten men who are brought to court for rape are convicted, and only one in 20 women who are raped are believed to report the incidents to the police. Estimates put the number of drug syndicates operating in South Africa at 100 or more.

Indeed, the situation is so precarious that the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is currently using more troops in police support in the townships than the former South African Defence Force (SADF) had used in Angola at the height of the war there. Combating crime is now the defence force's main task.

Crime has become a national obsession. Fear of it permeates everything. It is an incessant topic of conversation. It dominates the air-waves, as people call the talk-shows, vying to out-horror each other with macabre tales of encounters with muggers, car-jackers, thieves, burglars, rapists, and all sorts of assault-with-intent-to-kill types. And while whites are more vociferous in the outcry they raise and are increasingly becoming inmates in security-protected housing enclaves, 80% of the police are deployed in white areas and over 500 of the country's 700 police stations are still located in what are primarily or exclusively white communities. The stories that make the headlines, are, of course, the stories of the 13% protected by the 80% -- some things do not change. There are hundreds of stories of the mindless preying of the roving gangs that stalk, vulture-like, their vulnerable human quarry who scurry, like frightened rabbits, into what they hope are the burrow-holes of safety. Only some, invariably white, get their three inches of print, and many continue to leave, joining what is euphemistically referred to in the business as the "chicken run.".

The townships are steeped in criminal violence, their residents, especially in the sprawling squatter camps bear the overwhelming brunt of criminal activity, yet their voices are among the last to be heard. Crime has people changing life-long habits; they no longer walk the streets they live on; they avoid certain areas altogether, even if it means taking a more circuitous route to get from one place to the next; they exude suspicion; wariness has become instinctual; even neighbors are regarded with a caution unheard of in the worst days of apartheid; the world is not to be trusted.

In the more affluent white areas "rape-gates" have become the fashion of the times (many whites, when they go to bed, literally imprison themselves behind locked and well-barricaded iron-barred doors - a thief may ravage their houses, but not their bodies.) The pervasive sense that anything may happen at any time has destroyed people's sense of personal security and their collective sense of living in a safe community.

Perhaps the most telling data regarding the impact of crime, however, relate to the growth of the security industry. Uniformed security officers outnumber the police by about three to one. Listings of security companies run to 16 pages in the Johannesburg Yellow Pages telephone directory. There are about 2,700 private companies in the security business countrywide. These companies employ about 100,000 security officers and are increasingly turning to armed response activities, one bellwether of the extent to which the industry has usurped the state's role in maintaining law and order.

Most devastatingly, knee-jerk crime has reduced the value of human life to a pittance or less. There are no degrees of motive attached to the use of violence; one shoots dead someone as much for a dime as for a million; gender and age have ceased to be considerations; being in the way or just being is a sufficient reason for the snuffing-out of a life; the sight of living appears to justify erasing it. The sheer purposelessness of it all, the intimations of reflex boredom, are beginning to rob violence of its horror; the casualness of the way death is delivered is beginning to be matched by the casualness of the way it is being received. Not that there is any lack of outrage. On the contrary, the victims increasingly take matters into their own hands, and administer savage retribution to would-be culprits who are unlucky enough to get in the way of their inveterate wrath.

Anarchy is gaining its own momentum, and the continuing incapacity of the police to check the avalanches of crime suffocating people on every side has led to a disillusionment with, and disrespect for the rule of law. (Not too long ago, it was discovered that some of President Mandela's security-guards at his Houghton residence, a not-too pretentious dwelling in the affluent suburb, were treating themselves to possessions of his in the adjacent guest-house.)

And as with all problems that do not lend themselves to easy solution, would-be-victims look for the most obvious. Home-owners are drawing-up plans to turn their communities into fortresses, separated from neighboring communities by what would amount to Berlin-type walls.

In the Greater Johannesburg Metropole, the residents of at least eleven suburbs drew-up proposals for building walls in the Sandton, Hurlington, Fourways Extension 12, and Senderwood districts for the sole purpose of trying to hermetically seal themselves off from the ravages of crime. Roads are closed; access and egress, with the necessary security-checks at either end, are in strictly-controlled directions; bollards and guard-railings channel, divert, or otherwise monitor the flow of traffic. The entrance to Hurlington, for example, has a boom across the road, a 24-hour guard, and a telephone link to each house. It is a measure of the defeat of the authorities that Gauteng safety and security minister Jessie Duarte resignedly acknowlegded that "It is not unreasonable to [have people] request that their suburbs be closed off - where it has been done hijackings have decreased dramatically." And thus perhaps one of the final ironies of the repeal of the apartheid laws. In the place of the walls that have supposedly come down between the races, walls designed by law as part of the architecture of apartheid, have come other walls, walls designed by concrete. Where once people colluded in separation in the name of racial purity, they now collude in separation in the name of security as part of the architecture of security. One, of course, has always been a code word for the other. Apartheid by other names is still apartheid.

According to the South Africa Chamber of business (SACOB), the country's frightening rate of crime and lawless image is deterring foreign investment, and even more disturbing, it is forcing some local firms to close down and others to move to safer locations. Ken Warren, SACOB's director of legal affairs, says that "The perception overseas is that through crime and violence the country is unstable, notwithstanding what has been achieved over the last five years." Or, as economist Tony Twine put it, a little less elegantly, perhaps, but certainly more pithily: "People who want to put money into South Africa want to put people in as well. They don't want to see them go home in body bags."

(According to a survey carried out on behalf of the American Chamber of Commerce in South Africa, almost two-thirds of its members believe that business confidence is affected by South Africa's high crime rate. Half of the chamber members who responded to the survey had experienced a car hijacking in the past year; 48 per cent had had a burglary, and 27 per cent had experienced an assault on an employee. In the same period 24 percent had experienced a car hijacking and 48 per cent a vehicle delivery hijacking.

Nearly 90 per cent of respondents felt the level of policing was inadequate, with 80 per cent saying the service of the police was poor. On South Africa's political climate, 83 per cent described it as volatile, 84 per cent said progress to political maturity was slow; only 13 per cent thought it was "quite fast."

What is happening is not untypical of what happens when the lid of repression is lifted in any society, which has been governed through repression. In South Africa, the result has been an explosion in the crime rate since the collapse of apartheid has been accompanied by a simultaneous breakdown in law enforcement and in the morale of the police. "You had an illegitimate government," says Lloyd Vogelman, director of the University of Witswaterand's Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, "that could not provide for any kind of moral authority over why there should not be crime. People felt that they could justify crime on the basis of politics, but frequently the kind of crime carried out in the name of politics was just basic thuggery."

Once again, old habits are hard to break. The new government, no matter how legitimate in the eyes of the people, has to contend with the same old problems: unemployment, easy access to cheap weapons (an AK -47 can routinely be purchased for under $30.00 ); the continued breakdown of law-enforcement, and, in the townships a continued lack of trust in the police, whose job had been to enforce apartheid, not to protect citizens. What, after all, is one to expect from the same old faces in the same old uniforms? What is the difference between the South African Police (SAP) and the South African Police Services (SAPS), other than a euphemistic change in emphasis, despite the high-minded incantations about community policing and the like?

Not that the new SAPS is closed to change. On the contrary, two years after the abolition of apartheid, nearly 25% of the country's brigade staff in the SAPS had quit or been forced to quit; golden handshakes cost taxpayers tens of millions of Rands. In the year following the election in April'94, 217 police officers retired, 196 on grounds of health. They included 15 major-generals and lieutenant-generals, 12 of whom retired for reasons of ill-health; 25 majors, 55 lieutenant-colonels, 66 colonels, 38 brigadiers, 11 major generals and one lieutenant-general. Among whites, apartheid created a society, carefully calibrated along racial lines, artfully organized, to preclude feelings of guilt. But this, in turn, created a poisonous counterpoint. Because the oppressed in time are inured with the indifference of the oppressor. They become partners in suppression, inebriated with the numbness of the same guiltlessness. Apartheid endured because its proponents were willing to employ brutal and inhumane measures to ensure its survival. Apartheid was destroyed because its opponents were willing to use brutal and inhumane measures to ensure its annihilation. The heartlessness of one became in time matched by the heartlessness of the other.

At the heart of oppression is collusion between oppressor and oppressed, some awfulness, an unbearable commonality of non-being, a shared requiem of non-redemption. Once both sides succumb to the allures brutalization entices, desistance is impossible; rationalization becomes a matter of fruitless self-discourse. Once oppressed and oppressor submit to the exigencies of brutality, they can feel no remorse. Because remorse induces madness, a psychic crack-up that leaves one beyond spiritual repair, in perpetual abeyance from oneself - and with the good grace of God permanently extirpated, each looks to the hideous-power one can exercise over the other, each promiscuously earns his mother-lode of savage callousness off the spade-work of the other, each becomes enmeshed in the symmetry of the centrifugal forces that bind them in their atrocities, each incarcerates the other in the prism of mutual containment, forever bonded through hatred or forgiveness - the difference between the two becomes at some point pointlessly irrelevant.

The mathematical dynamics of violence are almost grotesquely simple: Brutality is a learned behavior. But when the practitioners of brutality become indifferent to their own practices, prisoners of the lassitude of endless repetition, the practices, like bad habits, become addictive; and the greater the addiction, the more tempting the inclination to excess. In the end, all habits consume, yielding to the intemperate dispositions that harden the heart and destroy compassion.

Anger is the one emotion both oppressor and oppressed go to exceeding lengths to conceal, the one because of the need to justify oppression on some moral basis, the other not to forfeit what is left of his dignity, since the withholding of anger is the one emotion the oppressor cannot rob the oppressed of.

But anger permeates the lives of the oppressed, leaving in its wake its concealments, its passive-aggressiveness, the cloud-tunnels of passing frenzies of despair, tornados of rage, grievances twisting in the winds of century-old discontents, anger at once magnificent and dangerous, at once perilous and exhilarating: The realities of the ending of oppression can never compensate for the damage oppression inflicts.

When the "booklets" of rejoicing and exuberance that follow political emancipation peter out in disappointment as they invariably do - and a desolation for which there is no remedy takes hold with the knowledge that there is no Messiah, no hope of the innumerable injuries of the past being redressed, the dams that held and channeled anger simply collapse, and the pent-up anger, free at last, sweeps everything aside, destroying whatever lies in its path. And to a very large extent, crime, brutal and casual, is a simple and logical outcome. Indeed, for South Africa, caught between the contradictions of so many countervailing worlds, survival is a message of success.

But the soul of the country is in trouble. Indeed, it is ironic that despite its many-acclaimed successes in the last three years - and there are many - the spiritual myth that transmogrified the apartheid-era, the cohesive and seamless beingness that connected the immense diversity that is the hallmark of the many South Africans is gone, or is at the very least dormant.

National police commissioner George Fivaz at a workshop attended by the police chiefs of eleven southern African countries told his peers that crime in the region had reached alarming proportions and was threatening to "ruthlessly rip our civilized world apart."

His analysis of the causes for the spiralling levels of crime in South Africa was conspicuous for the absence of reference to apartheid. Instead, he singled out the smuggling of firearms into South Africa, the increasing international trade in illegal firearms originating from, among others, former eastern bloc countries, and abundantly available in SA's neighboring countries, illegal immigration, which was also tied in with organized crime, and led to an increase in the already intense competition for scarce resources.


Most aspects of daily life remain damningly the same. Bad air, bad water, pollution from coal-fires, with their smothering residue of anthracite, deadly dust sweep across the barren landscapes and the garbage-littered wastelands of the townships; unheeded by the community, uncomplained of. Purulent streams of god-knows-what belch out of the steel chimney-stacks that sentinel-like envelop the townships or whatever you want to call the sparse, grim, infertile places people - the Godots of their miserable lots - squat and wait for change. Meanwhile, eyes, nose, ears are saturated with the insidious inhalation of the fumes of disease.

Townships and the inescapable sense of being smothered by the chaotic physical closeness of people to each other are a permanent part of the landscape; squatter camps continue to proliferate with blind randomness, entrapped in a Catch 22: the more the word gets out that the government is building houses, the more the population flocks to urban areas with the result that the backlog of houses increases, since the rate of influx exceeds the rate of housing construction; it's like trying to fill a bottomless bucket. The harder you try, the quicker it empties. In addition, what housing schemes do function are enmeshed in unending bureaucratic squabbles; unemployment remains as high as ever, and the ANC's promises of what a government of the people would do for the people remain promises on a distant horizon, a wish-list rather than an agenda, something that might come back to haunt the ANC, as it feverously tries to dampen expectations with frequent reminders to the grass-roots that Rome wasn't built in a day. No one stops to ask whether anyone knows where the hell Rome is.

But there still remains, after the ANC-dominated government an ambience of unsettlement, the feeling that at any time things could fall apart in tandem with the feeling that everything is going well, considering the inexperience of the new government, the travails it has had to cope with on its path to power, the enormity of the problems it faces, and the scarcity of the resources at its disposal.

The government has had its successes, which deserve due acknowledgement. Some four million school children are fed every day as part of a school-feeding program; there is free medical care for children and pregnant women; free education for Grade One children; and no child can be turned away from school, simply because he cannot afford school fees. Over one million homes have been electrified and 700,000 receive clean water, itself a revolution of extraordinary dimensions in its health-care repercussions. There are also increasing numbers of health-care clinics, especially in rural areas and further dramatic expansion of health-care facilities are planned.

Yet, the problems remain monumental and the perceived inability of the government to deliver three years into its stewardship is raising doubts, and not just among whites about the government's ability to govern. Political change has been slow to translate into an improvement in the living conditions of black people, and although the government has declared that all the chinks in delivery systems have been rectified, the people have heard it before. Seeing will be believing. Meanwhile some 60 per cent of Africans still have no electricity; only 20 per cent have a water tap inside their homes; 16per cent have no toilet of any kind. Nearly two-thirds of all African households (and more than three-quarters of African households in rural areas) have monthly incomes below the minimum living level of $200. In contrast, two-thirds of white households have monthly incomes in excess of $450.

Furthermore, 70 per cent of the five million African children aged five years or under live in rural areas and three-quarters of these children live in households that struggle to survive with less than subsistence levels of income. More than 2.7 million African children aged five years or under who live in the country's rural areas live below the breadline. Seven out of ten African children aged five or under live in homes without electricity; one in three live in homes where someone fetches water daily from a river, stream or borehole; and one in five live in homes where there are no toilet facilities. Almost one in three live in traditional dwellings and at least one in ten live in shacks. A third of rural inhabitants travel more than one hour to the nearest health facility, wait for two hours before being attended to; and are examined for five minutes or less.


In terms of ideological inventiveness, the new economic strategies being pursued by the ANC-led government would make their erstwhile ideological mentors -- Marx, Lenin, and the would-be advocates of a command economy -- weep for the apostasy of their former disciples. For a party that condemned free-market capitalism, equating it with the worst excesses of apartheid and the exploitation of the black masses, that promised to nationalize the banks and the mines, to implement socialism in all its forms to rarefied levels of practice, to break the grip of the giant monopolies on the economy (four companies continue to control 85 per cent of the stock traded on the Johannesburg stock exchange) and put the ownership of the wealth of the country firmly in the hands of the people, the turnabout in thinking has been nothing short of St. Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus. The free market has become the God of mammon; privatization is the flavour of the future; trade unions, once the vanguard of the liberation movement, are being lectured on the cold realities of the global economy, which is no respector oft the niceties of workers' rights in a world teeming with unemployed workers, anxious, indeed, avid to work for subsistence rates. The ANC inherited an economy which ranked among the most uncompetitive in the world, with management practices and attitudes firmly rooted in the nineteenth century; union practices that could not separate the legitimate business of unions as the custodians of their workers' interests from the imperatives of the liberation struggle (to this day, unions have trouble trying to uncouple the two); endemic low productivity and a relatively high wage structure, given the country's level of development, and a pervasive belief that the proper relationship between labor and business was necessarily adversarial. In short, an unholy mess made all the messier by what the private sector foresaw as an immanent Marxist takeover, if rhetoric were to serve as a guide to intentions.

But the pragmatists in the ANC have for the moment won the day. In accordance with IMF and World Bank (the Luciferan symbols of laissez-faire multi-nationalism and their demonic dogmas of structural adjustment programs), they accept that large scale direct foreign investment is a function of perceived fiscal and monetary prudence; that foreign bankers are not persuaded by noble sentiments to uplift the downtrodden masses who suffered under the jackboot of apartheid; that as far as the international community is concerned apartheid is a thing of the past, yesterday's story, and that unless South Africa gets its house in order, there will be no furniture deliveries, no additions or repairs. And perhaps, this is what has been most difficult for South Africans to grasp: Having been considered special for so long, having galvanized the world's attention for decades, they are having a hard time adapting to the fact that they are no longer special, just one more beggar in the international marketplace for the capital that insists on profit being part of the dividend of freedom.

The government, having absorbed the hard reality that in today's global economy sovereignty is a limited concept, that no country is at will to pursue economic and social policies of its own choosing without regard for external consequences, has produced a blueprint for growth and development, attuned in many respects to the presumed benefactions of the World Bank than to the interests of its own people, although, truth to tell, it is difficult to determine where the one begins and the other ends. The plan, Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) is predicated on a set of assumptions that will result in the economy growing at a rate of 6 per cent per annum by the year 2000, a rate which would facilitate a massive redistribution of income to redress the gross social inequities that are still a daily reminder that the statutory abolition of apartheid or even the appurtenances of democratic governance are merely necessary but not sufficient conditions for economic and social transformation. The plan, among its many objectives, intended to produce a 1996/97 budget that would reduce the budget deficit to 4 per cent of GDP, as verification of the government's commitment to fiscal rectitude, and the country's first black Minister of Finance, Trevor Manuel, tabled a budget in March that hypothetically met that goal, once one would made some generous allowances for revenue projections. But not without cost. Huge cuts in social expenditure, urgent inequities left undressed, basic services inadequately catered for; infrastructure left unattended to, adding to the cost it will impose in the future, investment in human capital neglected. And hence South Africa's basic dilemma: to attract foreign investment in the amounts necessary to generate the economic growth that can both raise standards of living and facilitate massive redistribution of resources (in the early 1990s, among its many dubious distinctions, South Africa had the most unequal distribution of income of any country in the world) that will obviate the gross inequities of the past, it must prove its fiscal mettle to skeptical international financiers; to prove its fiscal mettle it must cut deeply into resources already insufficient to meet basic needs and curtail the degree of redistributive measures that would go some meager way to addressing the imbalances between blacks and whites. In the end, the government angers whites for what is being taken from them, little though it may be; it angers blacks for the little that is being given to them, and, to add to the uncertainty, there is no guarantee that the financial manna from the international community will drop from the cluttered heavens of excess opportunities where the supplicants for capital far outnumber the suppliers.

In 1995, South Africa achieved a rate of growth in GNP of over three per cent for the first time in fifteen years; inflation is at its lowest level in decades; the projected rate of growth for 1996 is also in the region of three per cent. All good news, except for two disturbing blimps on the horizon: inward investment remains elusive, and, more ominously, the rate of unemployment remains close to 40 per cent, the manufacturing sector ids shedding jobs as it downsizes to meet the challenges of the global market, and the labor market cannot absorb the number of new entrants that knock on its doors every year, to say nothing of having the capacity to address the backlog of millions. South Africa, like many other countries at more advanced stages of development, is helpless in the face of a phenomenon it cannot control jobless growth. The unsettling reality is that no matter what configuration of the economy you conjure up, no matter how you juggle the figures, no matter what magical attributes you attribute to GEAR, you cannot do one thing: you cannot create jobs. And on this score alone, South Africa will rise or fall: Democracy is not edible: how often heard, how often ignored.

A growth rate of six per cent is a pipe dream, but the pipe draws on the dagga of hope; the dagga numbs and hope remains the repository of optimism. Optimism unfounded is perhaps better than no optimism at all.


As South Africa approaches the third anniversary of its blind leap into freedom, the punters hedge their bets. And, so do the foreign investors.

Anarchy is the stepchild of apartheid, which was managed by many of the people who continue to hold high positions in the government. They created a monster, but no longer know how to control it. Every day there are horror stories of young people running wild, of hostage-taking, which is be fad of the moment, of mutiny in the military and rebellion in the police, of theft and corruption in high places, of unprecedented levels of murder and mayhem in the streets.

What to do? Suffice to say that the hard-nosed international business community is still not sufficiently convinced that all is well. Not that the country is not functioning -- it is, and many would say remarkably well for a country going through a difficult and painful transition to democracy and it is certainly functioning better than it was during the last years of apartheid-rule. But when something's a mess, it's often difficult to make more of a mess of it.

Whites, not surprisingly, think otherwise; "Going the way of the rest of Africa," is a bond-building phrase. Denial is still rampant; many whites sugarcoat the past, despite the devastating revelations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), enveloping it in a dream-like fantasy of a world that never was (crime, for example, was only discovered after the abolition of apartheid.) and refuse to swallow the bitter-sweet reality of today. On the one hand, they try to behave as if nothing has changed; on the other hand, in the small hours of the night, they know everything has changed, and they do not know how to reconcile the two. By and large, they equate the past with law and order, a sense of being on top, and deservedly so by virtue of their hard work and talent; and they equate the present with growing anarchy, ineptitude, inefficiency, the inability to get things done, the debilitating impact of affirmative action, without for a moment pausing to inquire into their own part in the squalid past, a past that practically mandates the inefficiencies they so elaborately belabor because of the inequalities they so effectively legislated.

Few whites in South Africa, despite their affirmations to the contrary, have adjusted to the reality of black rule; they are awkward in conversation regarding the impact of the new order on their lives, are not especially keen to learn about black culture or how to reach out to blacks, especially those that appear to envelop and threaten them. But, at least for the moment, in the post-apartheid era, they like to see themselves as responsible citizens, who give, at the very least, lip-service, even in the absence of belief, to the need to rectify the socio/economic imbalances of the past, provided, that is, that this will mean no change in their own socio/economic status, no pain, something more in the way of an "unbundling" of excess largess, rather than a sharing among equals.

But they are incapable of knowing where to start or what to do, or even how to begin to learn what to do, or how to deal with their own resentments, since all resentment is denied. To reach out to blacks would require them to acknowledge, in some way, their implicit collusion in the darkness of the past.

They will not confront the dark, or their collective responsibility for the actions of successive National Party governments they elected over a period of forty years, with not merely an imprimatur of approval but a carte blanche endorsement of the policies of governments that implemented with a ferocious commitment the abomination called apartheid; governments that made the racial superiority of whites the raison d'etre of their existence - and the raison d'etre of their adherents. And if errors were made, they were, of course, errors of ignorance, not of malice. To this day, in what they regard as a gesture of profound magnanimity, whites will contend that grand apartheid was the product of the best of intentions, of their sense of obligation to "free" blacks, but that petty apartheid was just that -- petty.


The performance is vintage Mandela, forever the stern but understanding father, who has to read the facts of life, from time-to-time, to his unruly, over-demanding children, and who threatens harsh measures if they do not fall into line. The irony is not lost. In his warnings to criminals, President Mandela uncannily sounds like his erstwhile nemesis, the "Old Crocodile" himself, former State President, PW Botha.

The intent may be different, but the language is the same. The language is the language of crack down, of impatience with those elements in society, whether they are students or squatters, who, by their actions, are disrupting the orderly march to the new South Africa. (Could he be more blunt? "I am going to crack down on all people creating chaos in this country.")[The Citizen, 10/3/'95]

But unlike Botha, who habitually used intimidation rather than consultation to get his way, Mandela's persona is such that no matter what the occasion, he rises above it to convey an aura of a moral austerity and reclusiveness, the distance of serenity imbues his remarks, no matter how mundane, with the stamp of authenticity and an almost child-like sincerity that sets him apart from his peers, whether enemy or friend. They simply cannot command the authority that slips easily off his shoulders. No burden asked for, no burden unremitted.

Having been imprisoned for twenty seven years, Mandela brings the fastidiousness he had to practice in jail to match that of the regimen he had to live with in order to master his conceptions of how to survive not just the physical isolation, but the sense of spiritual abandonment that can accompany it.

Inevitably, having been imprisoned for that length of time, the fault-line between having to follow a routine based on regulation and discipline and the discipline and regulation that are imperative for an orderly transition to democracy disappears. His visions of the future are lanced by his experience of the past. The personal and the political converge. Symbiosis is complete, but uncomfortable, less a matter of principle than a raw awareness of reality: Deal or you're done for - easy to understand in the grim world of subterranean politics, hard to accept in the equally grim world of electoral politics.

What shapes Mandela's vision of the future is rooted irrevocably in the cold stone of Robben Island, where self-discipline was not only the yardstick of survival, but the hallmark of triumph over adversity and the redemption of the mythological self. One cedes the self to cause, not to God, but since God is always more rewarding than cause, the self is always more vulnerable to doubt.

In prison, he shaped himself. Out of prison he shapes his people. Which is why he talks about behavior rather than issues. Issues are transient -- behavior has the benefit of permanence. You reach into the soul to find the hidden graces, or you suffocate on the fumes of your deeply-held hatred.

Mandela is building his legacy: Stability is not in itself a sufficient but a necessary prerequisite for prosperity, and if, in the few years he has left in office, he cannot leave behind him the level of social and economic upliftment he so desperately seeks on behalf of his people, he will, at least, leave a climate of stability and order in which prosperity can thrive.

The foundations for nation-building, he is telling his people, come from within; from the understanding, acknowledgement, and acceptance that freedom has its corollaries: self-generated senses of discipline, obligation and responsibility, and if it takes a good crack of the whip, now and then, to drive home this message, well, so be it.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to theThis resource is hosted by the site.