Dark Skies over the Rainbow Nation

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Of the five states that compose the BRICS, South Africa is the often-ignored anomaly. Having spent a number of years as an unofficial partner, it was belatedly invited to join the association of developing economies in April 2011 – two years, and two conferences after the other four countries of the association had begun to met in an official capacity.

South Africa stands out from the rest of the BRICS in several ways. It has a landmass of around 1.2 million square kilometres, a population of just 49 million and a nominal GDP of $408 billion. [1] By these statistics, it is effectively the runt of the group, but in other respects, it excels in comparison to the other four. Its World Bank Gini coefficient is a staggering 67% [2] (the second-highest in the world after its neighbour Namibia), and its UNODC homicide rate is the 16th highest in the world. Rape in South Africa is worthy of an article of its own, with one in three women having reported being raped at some point in their lives. [3] Child and infant rape is also amongst the most prevalent in the world. Possibly related to its glaring inequality is its position as a country on worldwide burglary statistics, at 11th in the world. [4]

The African National Congress (ANC) remains the dominant party of South Africa, having secured 65% of the national vote in the 2009 election. The other 45% remains split between various parties and regional factions, with the largest two, the Democratic Alliance and COPE (a breakaway group from the ANC) earning 16.66% and 7.66% respectively in 2009. The odds of a broad, anti-ANC coalition remain slim for now. [5]

As one can gather, conditions in post-Apartheid South Africa hardly represent a happy case of Kumbaya. So what are its politicians doing to improve things? The current president, Jacob Zuma, has certainly been busy. The Zuma era has been characterised by the dirty dealings and corruption that are all-too typical of the rest of the continent. Prior to entering office, he had been second-in-command to then-president Thabo Mbeki. During this time, he had been hit with corruption allegations over a proposed arms deal and was forced to resign from his post. [6] However, these charges were later dropped, and the dropping of these charges coincided with his rise to the position of President. Shortly before the whole arms-deal debacle, he was accused of raping the HIV-positive daughter of a deceased friend of his. He claimed the sex was consensual and that he showered afterwards to prevent the spread of the HIV. He was found not guilty. [7]

Politically, Zuma would like to think of himself as a trade unionist and socialist, and in some respects he is. He has overseen the forced redistribution of wealth from the establishment (much of which is white) to the common man, primarily through the programme of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), which has in some shape or form existed since 1994. BEE is essentially an extreme affirmative action programme with the intention of correct the wrongs of Apartheid in a post-Apartheid era. Since it judges candidates primarily on their race and not on their qualifications, whites have been disadvantaged, much to their chagrin. They have responded to this by voting with their feet and leaving, bound for countries such as the UK and Australia. The corresponding brain drain that has accompanied this emigration has not gone unnoticed. [8]

As much as Zuma has placated his electorate by, in a populist matter, blaming his country’s current economic problems on its Apartheid past, his popularity has waned. His approval ratings hover around the mid-40s with no sign of perking up in time for the next general election in 2014. The recent shooting of protesting miners has been no panacea, and he has taken plenty of criticism for the event. One man who has capitalised on this vacuum of approval is the fiery upstart Julius Malema.

Julius Malema, a charismatic personality able to make up for his lack of academic qualifications (he failed most of his subjects at school) with headstrong bravado, established himself as leader of the ANC Youth Wing in April 2008. From then on, he embarked on a series of actions, engagements and statements that would reinforce his notoriety. Examples include a trip to Zimbabwe where he made a call for the Zimbabwe-style seizure of South African mines and farms in a process of swift and unapologetic nationalisation, and an incident in which he racially abused a BBC journalist. Eventually the ANC found him to be too much of a liability, and, fearing he was tarnishing their image, was expelled from the party for misconduct. [9]

The event which catalysed this this was Malema leading an infamous chant, which included the words ‘shoot the Boer’. Interestingly, Jacob Zuma had been documented chanting this very song at around the time of his rise to power, but with no significant backlash. On the 12th of September 2011, Malema was found guilty of hate speech. [10] This was not his first conviction, as he had previously made misogynistic statements in light of Zuma’s rape trial, which also warranted a conviction in 2010. Most recently, on 26 September 2012, Malema was charged with money laundering, relating to his awarding of government contracts in the Limpopo region in exchange for 4 million Rand. [11]

Malema currently exists in a state of limbo. There is a distinct possibility of him staging a major political comeback, with or without the ANC. The fact remains that he is still incredibly popular amongst many South Africans, and his hateful rhetoric still speaks to people with little else to believe in. In spite of the optimism that accompanied the fall of Apartheid and the arrival of democracy in the 90s, the new South Africa has many a hurdle to overcome still if it wishes to stand alongside the rest of the BRIC nations on equal footing.

Article by Andreas Greuter. Edited by Chris Olewicz.

Further Reading

[1] http://dissidentnation.com/africas-10-largest-countries-by-population-in-2012/

[2] http://seekingalpha.com/article/907401-south-africa-a-glass-half-empty-or-half-full

[3] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/27/south-africa-rape-study-m_n_788722.html

[4] http://www.nationmaster.com/country/sf-south-africa/cri-crime

[5] http://electionresources.org/za/provinces.php?election=2009

[6] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/7084512.stm

[7] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/4879822.stm

[8] http://www.timeslive.co.za/sundaytimes/article418948.ece/South-Africas-black-brain-drain

[9] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/southafrica/9114903/Julius-Malema-expelled-from-ANC.html

[10] http://article.wn.com/view/2012/09/26/South_Africas_Malema_to_appear_in_court/? section=RegionAfrica&template=worldnews%2Findex.txt

[11] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-19725301