This week marks the 20th anniversary of democracy in South Africa.
You may remember the United States was intensely interested in South African affairs during the years the Afrikaners, the country’s European-descended population, ruled under a racist policy called apartheid.
Then, on April 27, 1994, after years of international pressure, South Africa held its first open elections. The black majority population overwhelmingly chose Nelson Mandela, an anti-apartheid activist and former political prisoner, as the nation’s first black president.
America soon lost interest. It was as if a war had ended, and we could concern ourselves with other things.
Twenty years later, America is essentially the same. South Africa, on the other hand, transformed from an imperfect-but-stable society into the most dangerous place on the planet.
A few statistics on the “Rainbow Nation”:
• With a high murder rate and widespread HIV/AIDS (one in five are HIV positive), South Africa has the world’s No. 1 death rate at 17.3 per 1,000 people.
• The average life expectancy is 49.4 years – the world’s second-lowest – down from 64 years in 1994.
• It is the rape capital of world, with 132.4 sexual assaults per 100,000 people. Statistically, one in four girls will be raped before age 16. (Many African men believe sex with a virgin cures AIDS.)
• Roughly half its 49 million people live in poverty.
• Its United Nations’ Human Development Index ranking – once higher than all of Africa and most of Asia – is now below average at 121 out of 187 countries.
• The unemployment rate is 25 percent, double from 1994.
• The nation’s gross domestic product has risen 30 percent in 20 years, compared to an average of 115 percent in other emerging markets.
• Its Transparency International government corruption score is 42 out of a possible 100.
Then there are nonstatistical indicators of what life in post-apartheid South Africa is like. Homes are surrounded by walls, high-voltage fences and razor wire. Obesity is on the rise. Public schoolteachers sometimes stay home on Mondays and Fridays.
Young men participate in “jackrolling,” a type of recreational gang rape. Boys and girls alike partake in izikhothane, a dance contest where participants gather around a fire to see who can destroy their designer possessions – Carvela shoes, iPhones, Louis Vuitton bags – with the most pizzazz.
“Black economic empowerment” laws – think affirmative action for the majority – affect everything from employment and business to welfare and charity. Ninety percent of government workers are black.
South Africa’s current president, Jacob Zuma, has 20 children with six women. On the day Mandela died, Zuma was in the news for a scandal involving the renovation of his home with $2 million in state money. He and his ruling party, the African National Congress, still sing apartheid-era protest songs that reference machine guns and killing boers, white farmers descended from 17th -century Dutch settlers.
Some of Zuma’s countrymen have apparently taken the songs to heart, as thousands of white farmers and their families have been murdered in recent years. The organization Genocide Watch alleges the ANC is inciting atrocities against landowners to displace them, as Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe did to white Rhodesian farmers a decade ago.
Despite strict gun control, some rural Afrikaners have armed themselves, stoking fears of a race war among the liberal whites, Indians and mixed-race people living in heavily black urban areas.
Apartheid is over, but it’s abhorrent mind-set has transitioned to black majority rule. And the world seems mostly OK with that.
“When South Africa was governed by a racist white minority, it was scorned by the West,” writes Ilana Mercer in Into the Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons for America from Post-Apartheid South Africa. “Now that a racist, black-majority government controls the country ... it is the toast of the West.”
A couple of things almost kept me from writing about this topic.
First, a similar piece was penned 13 years ago by a much better writer, Walter E. Williams, a nationally syndicated columnist and economics professor. Sadly, South Africa’s indicators are worse today than they were in 2001.
Second, contrasting the nation’s prosperity under white rule against its chaos under black rule opens me to accusations of racism. “What’s your point?” people will say. “Are you trying to say blacks are inferior or incapable of running a civilized society?”
No. My point is the same as Williams’ – black rule is no guarantee for black freedom or prosperity.
“What I said during my several visits to South Africa ... is that blacks weren’t for personal liberty,” Williams was quoted last year. “They mostly wanted to change the color of the dictator.”
To evolve, the country needs economic freedom and the rule of law, said Leon Louw, executive director of the Free Market Foundation, a South African think tank.
“Democracy, in and of itself, is no solution,” he told World Net Daily recently. “What is important is checks and balances, separation of powers, which has virtually vanished. We now have basically the executive doing everything – writing the law and adjudicating ... And we don’t have real law ... we have discretionary power, which is the main reason why we have this corruption.”
South Africa’s 2014 general elections are May 7. Up for grabs are all 400 seats in the National Assembly, which since 1994 has been ruled by the tripartite alliance of the ANC, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party.
Perhaps a sweeping change in governance can make things better.
It certainly can’t get much worse.