South Africa’s Troubled Times

Though South Africa emerged from the cruel injustice of Apartheid to create a multiracial democracy, the country never addressed the residual inequality of wealth and property, contributing now to social unrest and political turmoil, as Danny Schechter reports from Durban.

By Danny Schechter

These are not the best of times in South Africa. It seems clear that there is fear and loathing everywhere as the press is packed with fresh allegations of corruption and a restive mood spreads even as the country prepares to host the economic summit of the BRICS countries that it is part of also involving Brazil, Russia, India and China a collection of countries facing a growth in joblessness and economic/political malaise.

Nelson Mandela’s wife, Graca Machel, the brilliant Mozambican leader who married the man everyone here calls by his clan name Madiba, is speaking out even as her husband Nelson Mandela no longer can because of age and infirmity. (Mandela was in and out of a military hospital this past weekend the government pronouncing his tests were “successful.”)

White South African leader Frederik de Klerk shaking hands with Nelson Mandela in 1992, when hopes for South Africa’s future were bright. (Copyright photo by World Economic Forum,

She calls South Africa an “angry nation … on the brink of something very dangerous.” She was speaking at a memorial for a Mozambican cab driver whose killing by the police was caught on a cell-phone camera and went viral. The police deny they were brutal, despite the video, which further outrages a country that seems to be increasingly turning on the politicians they see as plundering its resources.

Machel minced no words, saying South Africa is a society “bleeding and breathing pain” and warned against “deeper trouble from the past that has not been addressed.” That “deeper trouble” evoked the negotiated settlement that won political power for the African National Congress through elections in the early 1990’s, but kept economic power in the hands of a mostly white elite dominated by big business, the “mining-energy complex.”

Economist Sampie Terrablanche tells that story of an imposed neoliberalism lobbied for by multinationals, international financial institutions and foreign governments like the U.S. and U.K. in his book, Lost in Transformation.

There are many critical voices. The late anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko’s one-time close comrade, Mamphela Ramphele, has launched a new political party, Agagng (Sesotho for “build”)  to challenge the ANC. Ramphele is a doctor turned banker, poverty expert and businesswoman. While her base lacks the ANC’s deep roots in the black community, her analysis resonates with many,

Her statement aimed to “rekindle The South African Dream”  writing “the country of our dreams has unfortunately faded. …The dream has faded for many living in poverty and destitution.”

It was a lyrical all to memory and militancy, asking: “Do you remember our patience and quiet dignity as we waited in long queues to cast our very first votes as citizens of a free South Africa? Do you remember how you choked with emotion and had goose bumps as you made your very first cross on the ballot? Do you remember the tears of joy and relief when we watched our first President, Rolihlahla Mandela, being honored with a fly-past by the Air Force that was to have its first democratically elected commander in chief?

“Do you remember the dream we embraced to build ours into a great society a prosperous constitutional democracy united in its diversity?”

She lashed out at corruption, but the media gave her new initiative little chance of succeeding, Other parties, upset that she didn’t embrace them remained distant, even as it prompted another leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi to launch yet another broadside at the ANC:

“Last week’s State of the Nation address (by President Jacob Zuma) has left us in no doubt that the time has come to remove from power a leadership not fit to govern. The time has come to close the door on this first Republic under the ANC, and to close it firmly on all the inefficiencies, deficiencies and problems the ANC has brought with it. This is no longer the party of the 1912 visionaries; the party of Dr Pixley ka Isaka Seme, Inkosi Albert Luthuli and Nelson Mandela. This ANC is corrupt. It is failing South Africa.”

What Buthelezi and the ANC’s other critics seem to forget is that the former government, the all-white apartheid regime, was as corrupt, even if they were perhaps more discreet about it and controlled the media so there could be no exposés.

Whenever you have someone taking money, someone else is giving it, like the foreign arms companies that used payoffs to win business in South Africa. This doesn’t make any of it right but shows there is a deeper context implicating more than ANC officials. It is not just the black community that is hurt by or involved in these practices. Indians and whites are also compromised.

On the economic front, the Mail & Guardian newspaper argues that the needs of the business community dictate priorities, “This reflected relief that, post-Marikana, radical changes were not going to be ushered in and that the government had reaffirmed that social goals are to be the prerogative of growth and the market.”

In a country shocked by a current domestic rape-and-child-abuse crisis, the one story that made all the headlines was the case of paralympics runner Oscar Pistoroius, shooting and killing his model girlfriend. Both were white.

As Eurasia Review noted, “The Pistorius case cannot be treated in isolation of a complex culture, which makes its eventual outcome a defining moment for South Africa. Whether that moment shifts the socio-political terrain is another matter altogether. Between 2011 to 2012, two important centres in Cape Town, which have historically responded to diverse forms of gender based violence were all struggling for survival.”

The Pistorius family has now defended the arsenal of guns found in his home and no doubt in other homes. Violence is endemic in a culture of poverty and personal insecurity as crime becomes a crude and uneven redistribution system.

Eurasia Review adds, “Alongside this struggle for survival, two other important political events occurred on South Africa’s landscape. The first was the public murder of miners in Marikana who dared protest in order to demand for an acceptable living wage and the second was the constant revival and disappearance of the Traditional Courts Bill The bill is considered a reversal of the rights of women by making traditional chiefs powerful overlords who are not subject to democratic checks or balances.”

And so if you scratch the surface of almost any issue, you find currents of dissent and disagreement, as well as angry denunciations of whoever is thought responsible. The depth of this estrangement from government and disgust with the direction the country has taken is not fully reported in the media.

The sense of comradeship, unity and feelings of social cohesion, the “we,” not the “I”, that unified South Africans in the struggle for years seems to be disappearing as inequality deepens and people scramble to survive economically as individuals in an economy that is not growing fast enough and is still largely controlled by white-owned multi-nationals and banks.

The sense of traditional solidarity, class cohesion and community is under strain by a blatant Darwinism with even the poor embracing that core capitalist value to “look out for number one,” as government services what they call “delivery” promises falter and fail.

The other day I sat with two South African women, one named Confidence, the other the widow of a deceased commander of the Underground MK army that fought for the country’s liberation.

Both were frustrated by the slow pace of change and are in need of medical care they can’t afford. Both were working but their salaries do not really cover their costs. Once more political, both seem to be spending more time in Church these days praying for divine intervention.

In his autobiography, Long Walk To Freedom, now on its way to becoming a major motion picture, Nelson Mandela warned that after you have climbed your final mountain, there will still be others to climb. South Africans still have much climbing to do.

News Dissector Danny Schechter has made many films and TV programs about South Africa. He is currently working on a TV Series on the Making and Meaning of Long Walk To Freedom. He is the editor of the revived Comments to

3 comments for “South Africa’s Troubled Times

  1. rpdiplock
    March 14, 2013 at 09:22

    It’s time that misguided fools like “borat” stopped playing with themselves about Israelostine being the only democracy in the Middle-East. Israelostine cannot be a democracy if approximately a third of its population are NOT allowed to vote in the Jewish elections. What Israelostine is doing is the very same thing that was done in Apartheid South Africa during the Apartheid years, i.e. claim to be a ‘democracy’ when only 3M ‘whites’ out of a population of 24M were allowed to vote.

  2. jaycee
    March 12, 2013 at 17:17

    It seems some kind of deal was struck between the ANC and the minority white government – dissolving the apartheid system on one hand while retaining the economic system’s ties to Western interests and agendas. Thus longstanding ANC policies – distribution of resources such as water, for example – have never taken hold and instead World Bank supported schemes such as privatization have appeared instead. It was the ANC government which ordered and defended the deadly attacks on the miners last year.

    The peaceful end to the apartheid system was a remarkable achievement, all the more impressive due to the leadership and magnanimity of Mandela and his comrades. But it was half a revolution, and the ANC (like all mainstream political parties in the Western system) will not be capable of leading the way to a new economics.

  3. Jack
    March 11, 2013 at 16:55

    Perhaps it is time for White South Africans to carve out a piece of the continent for themselves.

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