"Worse than Apartheid" in the new South Africa

While South Africa has seen steady economic growth in the 17 years after apartheid, it has also experienced an abiding racial divide. That partition is expressed in enduring prejudice on both sides and persistent economic segregation. Remarkably, income inequality rose after apartheid ended: redistribution programs have mainly benefited a politically connected elite. Most whites and a few blacks live in the first world. But out of a total population of 50 million, 8.7 million South Africans, most of them black, earn $1.25 or less a day. Millions live in the same township shacks, travel in the same crowded minibuses (called taxis in South Africa) and, if they have jobs, work in the same white-owned homes and businesses they did under apartheid — all while coping with some of the world's worst violent crime and its biggest HIV/AIDS epidemic.

The ANC blames apartheid's legacy and, as party spokesman Keith Khoza describes it, "the reluctance of business to come to the party." But 17 years is almost a generation. The government's failure to transform South Africa from a country of black and white into a "rainbow nation," in Archbishop Desmond Tutu's phrase, means black poverty is still the key political issue. A second, related one, however, is the ANC's dramatic loss of moral authority. At 93, Mandela is still among the most admired people on earth. But his party has become synonymous with failure — and not coincidentally, arrogance, infighting and corruption. Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and, at 80, still the nation's moral conscience, encapsulated South African political debate last year when he came out of retirement to give two speeches. In the first he asked whites to pay a wealth tax in recognition of their persistent advantage. In the second he called the ANC "worse than the apartheid government."

Africa is littered with liberation movements that, upon victory, forgot the people in whose name they fought. That era is coming to an end as the continent becomes more democratic and prosperous. The International Monetary Fund says seven of the world's 10 fastest growing economies are African, despite holdovers like Zimbabwe. Is South Africa, the continent's economic and political powerhouse, a gateway to this bright future or a window on its unhappy past?

The national Special Investigating Unit, which targets corruption, reckons that up to a quarter of annual state spending — $3.8 billion — is wasted through overpayment and graft. The Auditor General says a third of all government departments have awarded contracts to companies owned by officials or their families; in December it found that three-quarters of all tenders in one ANC-ruled province, the Eastern Cape, rewarded officials in this way. Those being investigated for suspected corruption include two ministers, the country's top policeman and the head of the ANC's Youth League, Julius Malema. (All deny the charges.)

Since [President] Zuma was elected, the DA says the state has spent $50 million on refurbishing his homes. Tellingly, Zuma goes after those who would check his behavior. In November the ANC-led Parliament passed a law known as the "secrecy bill," which penalizes whistle-blowers or journalists in possession of secret documents and allows no public-interest defense. He has installed unqualified allies in top positions across the justice system. Meanwhile, internal party politicking, particularly Zuma's rivalry with Malema, has overshadowed government, something that will only increase in the run-up to a party conference in Bloemfontein in December at which Zuma is running for re-election as ANC President.


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