Molly Guinness

Is democracy flourishing in South Africa?

This week South Africa has held events to mark 20 years of democracy. Simon Jenkins, writing after the first election that included black people, was deeply moved:

Democracy is an unromantic ideology, but the old girl can still draw a tear. I have never witnessed a political event to compare with the South African election, not even the fall of the Berlin Wall. The silent queues snaking for miles across bush and township were mesmeric…Streets that saw gunfights, burnt homes and necklaced corpses were graced with orderly lines in their Sunday best…

Twenty-five million blacks got up one morning, and decided to put their faith in democracy. Nobody foretold this. Nobody imagined South Africa would go to the polls on a universal franchise in 1994, experience no boycott and no violence beyond what Chicago sees in an average weekend. Yeats should have been there. This was the centre holding. This was the ceremony of innocence undrowned in blood.

But he was already worried about the economy. South Africa had outperformed other African economies for the last 20 years but the newly elected ANC had a Socialist agenda. If it didn’t go well, they would have a ready-made defence:

Apartheid will be a pearl without price. It will be the Great Excuse…Politically correct academics claim white rule held South Africa back by stifling black education and advancement. I don’t believe it. Apartheid may have been crude and cruel, but it was no more than an elite entrenching its economic power. The ‘trickledown’ worked. The incomes of blacks were well above those elsewhere on the continent, which explained the heavy migration of blacks into South Africa throughout the apartheid period. As Third World economies go, South Africa was a thundering success. The massive redistribution of wealth promised by the ANC threatens that success. So a reason for incipient failure must be found in advance.


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