It has made progress since becoming a full democracy in 1994. But a failure of leadership means that in many ways, South Africa is now going backwards
ON JUNE 26th 1955, 3,000 South Africans gathered in a dusty square in Kliptown, a district of Soweto, a sprawling black township on the outskirts of Johannesburg. Members of the African National Congress (ANC) congregated alongside their anti-apartheid confederates to proclaim a new vision of the future. The next day police broke up the meeting (Nelson Mandela disguised himself as a milkman to escape). But the dream had already been declared.
“The people shall govern,” announced the Freedom Charter. South Africa would belong to all of its people, no matter what their colour. There would be work, education and security for all. Everyone would be equal before the law. It was an extraordinary affirmation, full of hope and the promise of a better future.
Today the square is named after Walter Sisulu, an ANC hero and mentor to Mr Mandela. It boasts shops, offices, a conference hall and a pricey hotel. As the birthplace of the new, inclusive South Africa, it has become a stop on the tourist trail. But just across the railway track, rickety shacks huddle together. The roads are rutted and muddy. Communal latrines stand useless, their doors open and rubbish piled inside. Next to them on the uneven ground wobbles a portable toilet, its door padlocked against vandals. A sludgy stream trickles past, fouled by children unable to find the key in time. Walter Sisulu Square is close by, but the aspirations of the Freedom Charter are nowhere to be seen.
In the 18 years since black-majority rule began and South Africa became a full democracy, its people have made progress. Many more now have access to clean water and electricity. Between 1996 and 2010 the proportion living on less than $2 a day fell from 12% to 5%. The racist legislation of apartheid has been abolished. The new constitution is liberal and inspiring.
And yet in other ways South Africa is in a worse state than at any point since 1994. In August police shot dead 34 miners on strike at a platinum mine near Marikana, in North West province. Since then wildcat strikes have broken out at other mines. Some operations have been suspended. Thousands of miners have been sacked. In September Moody’s, a credit agency, cut South Africa’s sovereign rating, citing the declining quality of the government, growing social stresses and worsening conditions for investment. Meanwhile, South Africa’s leaders have floundered. The ANC’s leadership is up for re-election at a party conference in December. South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, faces possible ejection as party leader—which would prevent him from being the ANC’s presidential candidate in elections in 2014.
The past two months’ industrial strife is about more than just pay or perks. The protests are a symptom of the deep malaise that has taken hold of South Africa. The ANC was dealt a bad hand in 1994, and it has played that hand badly. South Africa’s difficulties are now so entrenched that the ANC looks incapable of solving them.
The starkest measure of South Africa’s failure is the yawning gap between rich and poor. Under apartheid, such inequality was by design. Since apartheid came to an end, a tiny black elite has accrued great fortunes. But that has only widened the wealth gap. South Africa’s Gini coefficient—the best-known measure of inequality, in which 0 is the most equal and 1 the least—was 0.63 in 2009. In 1993 it was 0.59. After 18 years of full democracy, South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world.
Persistent inequality is in part down to the government’s failure to educate young South Africans, particularly black ones. In the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report, South Africa ranks 132nd out of 144 countries for its primary education and 143rd for the quality of its science and maths. In the Department of Basic Education’s national literacy and numeracy tests last year, only 15% of 12-year-olds (sixth graders) scored at or above the minimum proficiency on the language test. In maths just 12% did.
Nokubonga Ralayo, a 20-year-old university student from Khayelitsha, a vast black township on the edge of Cape Town, says success comes down to being able to afford a better school. “It is hard to escape your background when you are growing up,” she says. Three-quarters of white pupils complete the final year of high school, but only a third of black pupils.
For the rest of this ariticle, please go to The Economist website: http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21564829-it-has-made-progress-becoming-full-democracy-1994-failure-leadership-means