South Africa: the Land of Contrasts Part I

It has been more than twenty years since the racist apartheid regime , which was declared a crime against humanity by the UN , was disbanded in South Africa. But there are few countries in the world that are so full of contrasts. Travel agencies lure tourists with elephant safaris, vineyards and beautiful nature, while the Norwegian press mostly writes about poverty, inequality, corrupt leaders and political dissatisfaction. Now the local elections in August 2016 also tell that the African National Congress (ANC) has begun to lose its solid grip on the voters.

  • What’s going on in Africa’s economic power?
  • What grip does the ANC have on political power?
  • What major challenges does South Africa and the ANC face?

2: After apartheid: reconciliation and democracy

In the first democratic election in South African history, an overwhelming majority voted in 1994 for the liberation movement ANC – African National Congress . Nelson Mandela , who had spent much of his life behind the prison walls, now became a popular president.

Since 1994, South Africa, a country located in Africa according to, has in many ways been a success story on a continent where democracy is in short supply and where there have often been violent conflicts. There was no shortage of gloomy predictions. The whites, who had held all economic and political power, even though they made up only ten percent of the population, warned against collapse and dissolution.

But under Mandela’s leadership, South Africa entered a stable period, with reconciliation across old contradictions being one of the slogans. One of the world’s most democratic constitutions has largely been respected, the judiciary is functioning well, and free and fair elections have been held . The ANC has been re-elected time and time again, but there has been a vibrant opposition and a critical press .

But this is not the whole story . Economically and socially, the new board took over a heavy legacy . The enormous differences between rich and poor largely followed the division into ethnic groups according to skin color and ethnic background. Those of European descent accounted for around 10 percent, but owned more than 85 percent of the land. It was even written in the old racial laws. The large mining companies, banks and industrial companies also had almost exclusively white owners, and the gap was screaming between upscale residential areas and black slum areas.

The abolition of apartheid took place through compromises between the ANC and the previous rulers. One of the results was that it became difficult to make a fair redistribution of the goods. Although racism was less open than before, it was never far below the surface.

3: Progress and decline

Until the world crisis set in in 2007–2008, the economic results were quite good . The progress was mainly due to the opening of new mines, so that more raw materials such as gold, diamonds, platinum, chromium and manganese were exported . Because commodity prices were high, foreign companies also flocked to the country. But this was far from enough to create the jobs that the country so badly needed. Instead, hundreds of thousands lost their jobs after competition from Asian countries opened up, with lower wages and weaker unions. It particularly affected the large textile and automotive industries.

Another problem, which South Africa is not alone in, is that huge sums are disappearing from the country, often illegally. Not least, mining and oil companies are specialists in fraud with prices, corruption and the use of tax havens to avoid access and taxation. The latest has recently emerged from the many revelations of the “Panama Papers” (summer 2016). Because South Africa’s economy is so dominated by mining giants, there is little doubt that hundreds of billions of dollars have been withheld from the treasury. In addition, several of the country’s largest companies have moved their headquarters to London, making it easier to move large assets out of the country.

The figures from the first half of 2016 show that there is now a decline in gross domestic product per capita . Nor is there any indication that it will turn around in the first place. Foreign companies no longer find South Africa so attractive when mineral prices fall. In addition, it is often more profitable for large South African companies – not least in the banking, mining and finance sectors – to invest in other countries. For example. The mobile company MTN is now Africa’s leader in its industry, with almost 150 million customers in Africa and the Middle East.

South Africa 1

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