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Is democracy flourishing in South Africa?

2 May 2014

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.

Andrew Kenny expressed similar concerns a few months later. The ANC had an entrenched belief that wealth is to be taken and distributed by government rather than made, he argued. While the ANC was busy redistributing wealth and advertising highly paid government jobs, few people seemed to be interested in doing any actual work.

The blacks want to sit back and be recompensed handsomely for the years of oppression under apartheid. Among the whites, any feelings of guilt are limited to a tiny handful of academics and novelists; the vast majority, far from feeling guilty about apartheid, feel aggrieved that they have had to carry the white man’s burden for so long. Now that they have laid it down and generously conceded power to the blacks, they expect to sit back and be rewarded. So neither black nor white wants to work.


Ten years later, Kenny was even gloomier than before. He’d always believed that once the race problems were ironed out, South Africa would flourish. But by 2004, things were looking bleak. Aids, unemployment and violent crime were rampant, and he was appalled by the government’s insistence on racial quotas for all employers.

Looking back over the two eras, I see a horrible continuity between apartheid and ANC rule. Both the National party and the ANC had strong socialist instincts before coming to power, and a desire to nationalise the economy. Neither did so in government, both choosing instead a corporatist or fascist approach, in which the big corporations and trade unions were co-opted into arrangements with the state on the running of the economy. Both believe in an all-powerful state that must control every aspect of life. And of course both are obsessed with race, their all-consuming ideology.

The economy is held in a strangling grip by the government, a few large corporations and the big trade unions. In true fascist style, the three have come together to draw up highly restrictive labour laws, which cripple small businesses and shut the poor out of the economy. The result is massive unemployment, grinding poverty for the masses and sumptuous wealth for the lucky few. Under apartheid there was laughter at racial classification. Today the racial classification remains, but the laughter has died.

The Spectator also kept a close eye on South Africa’s attitude to its neighbour Zimbabwe. Andrew Meldrum, who had been kidnapped by Mugabe’s secret police and illegally forced out of the country, wrote an article entitled ‘Drowning in Denial’ soon after the tenth anniversary of democracy.

I found it difficult to watch all the self-congratulatory hoopla and pomp in April when South Africa celebrated its tenth anniversary of majority rule on the same day that President Thabo Mbeki was inaugurated for a second five-year term. Robert Mugabe — the dictator who has systematically dismantled Zimbabwe’s democracy, destroyed the economy and caused untold suffering — received a hero’s welcome. South Africa’s political elite gave him a standing ovation with clenched fist salutes. A fury of frustration welled up inside me as I watched the celebrations on television…They applaud Robert Mugabe for spitting in the eye of the old colonialist, and overlook the fact that he has sacrificed Zimbabwe’s economy and the rights of his people just to hold on to power.

Unemployment in South Africa is now at 36%, which is higher than in 2000, when Simon Freeman took a tour of Soweto with a reformed criminal, ‘so distracted by his own jokes that he veered crazily from lane to lane as he drove his minibus full of tourists through the centre of Johannesburg’. The guide explained to his audience that everyone in the township had a BMW because they were so easy to steal. Guard dogs were no problem because you could just shoot them. It was in townships like these – mazes of tin, shared toilets and scrap – where the future of South Africa would be decided, he said, “angry and bloody, or pragmatic and peaceful”.

South Africans are getting angry. There are regularly violent protests about corruption and poor public services; police shot dead 34 miners during a strike in 2012 and there are more strikes going on at the moment. President Jacob Zuma recently spent $25 million of public money on home improvements, but when the country holds elections on 7th May, he’ll be voted back in. As with every other election since 1994, the ANC, the party that came to power on a surge of goodwill 20 years ago, is sure to win.

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  • john king

    So, Peter Hain leaves South Africa and democracy flourishes.
    Peter Hain arrives in Britain and Democracy dissipates.
    Coincidence or what?

  • CharlietheChump

    Rise up and smash the ruling class!

    • john king

      Another one recommending his own comments eh?
      (And by the way – Anarchists are tw*ts).

  • Randy McDonald

    South Africa is doing astonishingly well given how badly the apartheid government treated most of the population for decades.

    It takes time to fix a broken society. Look how long it has taken for central Europe, never mind southeastern or eastern Europe, to become normal again. The case could be made that Communist totalitarianism was less malign than apartheid: at least in Communist societies the rule was to assume that people _did_ have a right to adeuqate education and health care.

    • Wessex Man

      I suggest that before making comments like that, you check out The White Slums by Reggie Yates, a black Englshman who reported on the effects of ‘positive discrimination’ which means an unqualified applicant black man/woman is given employment over a qualified applicant white man/woman.

      To say that he was horrified at the living conditions of the now poverty strcken white people is an understatement. Maybe Call me Dave and his cronies would like to send some of their foreign aid direct to these people who have done no wrong other than to be white under ANC Rule!

      • Chris Bond

        I wouldn’t bother. The whole decolonization process was a hideous disaster involving the transfer of power to incompetent people. Imagine passing control of the UK to council estates, you would end up with the London riots, except with no one to stop them. The anti-racists, marxists and assorted leftist scum wanted it, the Africans suffered as a result. ant racist fault.
        Of course, actually the fault is the white people not educating these people to degree level of course, and in the same breath let me tell you about the cultural genocide conducted by white people educating the natives.
        you can’t win with the leftist scum. They lie, obfuscate and retreat into magic, myth and fantasy. The only solution is to remove them from positions of power – university, civil service and media.

        • Marie Louise Noonan

          Weren’t council estates originally ‘homes fit for heroes’?

          ‘Most squaddies come from council estates’. Ingrate.

      • Randy McDonald

        “I suggest that before making comments like that,”


        The South African government under apartheid did its concerted best to prevent qualified black people from emerging. They couldn’t be political actors at all, capable of managing their own affairs with the same powers and funds granted whites; they could live in urban areas only under very restrictive conditions; they were denied access to comprehensive education, and health care; they were barred from the professions.

        Are we supposed to be surprised that South Africa has a largely poorly educated and unhealthy population living desperate lives in slums when the country spent a half-century trying to ensure just that outcome?

        “these people who have done no wrong other than to be white under ANC Rule!”

        The phrase “Little Eichmans” comes to mind.

        • Chris Bond

          Its wonderful how people like you can so easily rationalise away the failure of black south africans. You model is always right, therefore the blame must reside with the white south africans. It seems you have a mystical view of the situation. Did you read the part in the article regarding black people immigrating to africa? Or how the white people had to shoulder the burden of the black population? South korea, singapore, hong kong where under colonial control and didn’t descend into chaos. Africa was running fine prior to black rule. Black people where being educated. I also notice your use of Nazism as a moral reference point, bit odd no?
          I’m also curious, have you ever seen a break down of average IQs of populations? I believe James Watson ran into trouble when he let the cat out of the bag.

          • Marie Louise Noonan

            Since when were IQ tests regarded as infallible?

            Have you heard of paragraphs?

    • Chris Bond

      o shut up.
      The black population are economically incompetent and have run the economy into the ground. To claim that white south Africans did not educate them enough is just sick. Utterly mentally sick.

      • Randy McDonald


  • Mr Creosote

    My mate runs a company in South Africa and has to endure maintaining the requisite number of token black board members – he pays for their wages and BMWs but they hardly ever turn up for meetings and when they do, they don’t contribute and they’re usually drunk.

  • Jez


    On probably the same level as this astonishing revelation;

    Yesterday was Thursday……. and today is Friday. Who on earth would have thought that?

    Looking at Zimbabwe, this could be much, much worse.

    Mind you, they do have time on their side.

  • Spectre

    Sometimes you can’t help but think that South Africa was, in so many respects, better-off under Apartheid.

    • Randy McDonald

      Would you have preferred genocidal war at the southern tip of the African continent, then?

      • Spectre

        If it meant the extermination of the b*****, then yes.

        • Randy McDonald

          Why do you desire genocide?

          • Spectre

            Boredom, I suppose.

            Truthfully, I have no such desire. I stand by my contention that life in South Africa under Apartheid probably was, in certain respects, better for many people (Boer and Black alike). For example, incidences of rape appear to be increasing in post-Apartheid South Africa. See:

            I’m sure there are many women who long for a return to the steadying hand of White rule.

            What makes you think genocide was the alternative to Apartheid’s continuance? What makes you think it has been avoided? – South Africa resembles Zimbabwe more each day. If I were a White person or Asian person living in the Rainbow Nation i’d be planning my emigration now.

  • Rhoda Klapp8

    Never mind SA, isn’t there supposed to be an election going on here? Where is the proper debate about EU matters, as opposed to domestic stuff and attempts to delegitimise UKIP?

    • Wessex Man

      Well said Rhoda, now all the useful fools who were queing up to slander UKip are rushing out of the woodwork to try and save Jeremy Clarksom, who is one of the biggest racists ever!

      • Rhoda Klapp8

        If you think just saying the n-word makes someone even in the running for biggest racist ever, you are deluded. A lot of people are out to get Clarkson, but he is ironically part of the BBC’s best selling programme. And not just a presenter, an owner of the format.

        • Wessex Man

          I konw this only too well, what I was saying is that he has an history of this dating back to the Cockle pickers who drowned some years ago.

          My point is that the BBC who wrere hounding Farage about racists in his party are now floundering trying to shut down all comments about Clarkson’s lastest gaffe.

          I’m not deluded, I’m ever so cynical though after dealing with them and a continuing flow of garbage from them!

  • RavenRandom

    I hope they’ll sort it out. The ANC keeps winning because it is still the liberation movement. It takes time for memories to fade and a viable opposition to develop.
    That said, if I had a foreign passport and I was reasonably young, leaving might be the economically (and healthy) sensible thing to do.

  • swatnan

    I don’t think they know the meaning of the word. its not just OM/FOV, its more than that.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    Why would SA be an exception to the African rule?

  • Robert_Eve

    The useful idiots vote ANC without a thought.

    In the UK a similar situation with Labour.

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