Andrew Kenny

The grim state of South Africa one year after Nelson Mandela

It's not that he presided over a golden age; it's that the problems have become clearer since

The grim state of South Africa one year after Nelson Mandela
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 Cape Town

Nelson Mandela was so much the father of our new democracy that when he died a year ago South Africans felt like orphans. The joyful moment when he became our president 20 years ago has been replaced with a sombre mood now. South Africa has political stability, a fairly healthy democracy and has lifted millions of her people from the lowest rungs of poverty, but economic growth has been pitifully low, unemployment is at 37 per cent, and dreadful levels of violent crime terrorise the whole population, particularly the poor. The education of black children is among the worst on earth. The civil service, central and local, is bloated, incompetent and corrupt. State hospitals, state electricity supply and the state airline are failing. The ANC is as obsessed with race as the apartheid government was, and with the same disastrous consequences.

The myth that the African National Congress overcame apartheid by armed struggle is nonsense. So is another myth, now prevalent, that ANC rule under Nelson Mandela was a golden age but that the ANC has subsequently fallen from grace. Mandela was indeed a great man, whose generosity of spirit brought peace to an anxious nation, but he was not a great president. He took little interest in the economy and deferred practical matters to others, including ideologues and crooks.

His successor, Thabo Mbeki, ruling from 1999 to 2008, was a neurotic racist with intellectual pretensions. Like Robert Mugabe, he worshipped everything European while deeply resenting it. His racism led him to believe that Aids, then decimating the black population, was caused not by the HIV virus but by some sort of imperialist machination. His denial is estimated to have cost 300,000 lives, nearly all black. (Today 11 per cent of South Africans are infected with HIV.)

Jacob Zuma, the president today, is corrupt, incompetent and likeable. He has no political ideas and simply implements the ANC’s prevailing ideology. He is a master at manipulating the party machine. Staying in power is his only ambition. He has survived scandal after scandal. He rewards political allies through an immense system of patronage, and has composed an enormous cabinet where a multitude of ministers, mainly useless, receive huge salaries. Unlike Mbeki, he is proud of his African culture. He boasts of his many wives (all big, strong, black mammas) and delights in dancing in leopard skins, disporting the big belly that marks the traditional African man of substance. His personal demeanour is humble and endearing. Helen Zille, the leader of the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance, was once railing against his abuse of government. The interviewer said: ‘But he’s very charming.’ Zille sighed and said wistfully, ‘Yes, I know.’

The worst feature of ANC rule has been the continuation of racist policies — Apartheid Part II. They are called ‘Affirmative Action’ and ‘Black Economic Empowerment’. Both promote ‘demographic representivity’. This is the belief that at every level of employment, the percentage of the races should be the same as those in the total population. Since whites are now only 9 per cent of the population (down from 11 per cent when Mandela came to power in 1994), whites should not consist of more than 9 per cent of engineers, managers, doctors and maths teachers. Black Economic Empowerment, which is simply legalised corruption, states that all companies wishing to do business with the government must hand over a proportion of their ownership to black people. Naturally the black people in question are always connected to the ANC: relatives and chums.

These policies have been ruinous, especially for poor black people. Qualified, experienced white managers and engineers have been replaced by unqualified, inexperienced black ones in government service. (This is also known as ‘cadre deployment’.) In a municipality serving a poor black community, the unqualified black cadre in charge of water and sanitation is often out of his depth and poor black people die of cholera. If you question this policy, there is an automatic response: ‘You think blacks are incompetent!’ That shuts down the argument. Black babies have died in state hospitals thanks entirely to the incompetence of black affirmative action hospital managers. Anyone who points this out was decried as a racist.

None of the ruling ANC politicians would dream of sending their own children to schools where 91 per cent of the teachers were black. They want the best teachers, and if they are all white, that’s fine with them. Indeed many black parents, rich enough to choose, deliberately seek out white teachers for their own children. If they are not rich enough to choose, their children suffer inferior education.

The ANC has no economic ideology except Marxism. It loves state control and hates private business. It would like to nationalise the whole economy but economic reality stops it from doing so outright. So it proceeds by stealth, introducing laws that gradually reduce property rights and free enterprise. This racist legislation and a strangling web of red tape makes the cost of doing business in South Africa prohibitively high. It is getting worse.

Labour laws, drawn up by the rich and the powerful, make it so difficult to hire and fire that only the relatively rich may become employers or employees. Poor people are shut out of the economy. With a growing multitude of unskilled blacks, thanks to poor education, this explains our appalling levels of unemployment.

South Africa, with the world’s greatest mineral treasure, missed out on the greatest commodity boom in history a few years ago. This was because of vague and arbitrary allocation of mining licences according to the whims of ANC politicians.

Many African countries are now booming. South Africa is not. She has become unattractive for investment. Skilled whites are emigrating. Manufacturing is in decline. Labour relations are dire and, in a violent strike on a platinum in 2012, 34 miners were shot dead by the police. Electricity blackouts have become routine. There are only five million taxpayers but 16 million who receive welfare grants. Debt is growing. There are weekly protests, often violent, against the failure of government to deliver services.

After 20 years of democracy, and 12 months since Nelson Mandela was laid to rest, the mood in South Africa is bleaker than at any time in recent history — and with good reason. Still, the weather is lovely and the scenery beautiful.