Amid the justified Nelson Mandela tributes this week lurk some less loudly spoken truths about the country he formed. Clearly, his legacy of political empowerment for blacks and reconciliation with whites is one of the greatest political achievements of the post-war period.
But economically, South Africa’s current state is perilous. The South Africa of today is, at best, underperforming its economic potential: at worse, it’s in a quagmire with little sign of improvement.
While the dream of apartheid-era South Africans was for a country of equality, the country today, according to the Gini Index, is the fourth most unequal in the world. Depressingly, that inequality has actually worsened since the end of apartheid.
South Africa also holds another unenviable record: one of the world’s highest rates of unemployment. A quarter of its inhabitants are out of work, with 29 per cent of blacks unemployed and 6 per cent of whites.
Poor education for black children means, tragically, many job vacancies go unfilled because there are not enough people qualified to fill them.
Mr Mandela’s dream, stated soon after his release from Robben Island, was for a “fundamental restructuring of our political and economic systems to ensure that the inequalities of apartheid are addressed”.
But given the current state of its economy, by most measures that matter to the average South African family, it is failing.
Yes, all adults now have the right to vote, but in many townships only a lucky few have the right to a job.
Yes, equity in the white-owned businesses of old has been shared with blacks, but there has been little sign of a trickle down to the impoverished masses below this lucky few.
Yes, black workers have power and rights, but the old unions, surrounded by suspicions of corruption, abuse their historic ties to the ANC to the detriment of local communities and the employees they claim to represent.
Mr Mandela cannot be blamed for too much of this. As Peter Attard Montalto, who advises western companies on investing in South Africa, says, Mr Mandela spent his one term in office busily, and wisely, creating the structures needed to build a new country. After controversially reneging on the ANC’s longstanding pledge to nationalise mines, banks and many other businesses, he left economic policy to his deputy, Thabo Mbeki.
Mr Montalto says this policy is one in which all-powerful unions have created an inflexible labour market while the black empowerment rules have gifted valuable chunks of companies to a small elite for “not doing much work”.
More fundamental, though, he says, has been the erosion of the modern institutions of state that Mr Mandela helped to create. President Jacob Zuma’s scandal-riven reign is the epitome of that.
According to Mr Montalto, this mixture of union power and labour unrest, corruption and political uncertainty has left many outside investors hesitant to put money into the country. Instead, they are nowadays considering Ghana, Nigeria or Kenya as their hubs. There can be little doubt that the blame for this is squarely to be laid at the doors of Mr Mandela’s successors in the ANC leadership.
While his decision to serve only one term in office was utterly laudable, and still serves as a beacon of honesty for other African leaders, he did not put in place a strong enough cadre of successors to take over leadership after his retirement.
Mr Mandela’s mighty achievements were impossible for any leader to live up to. But Mr Mbeki and Mr Zuma’s mishandling of the economy leaves the country at risk of slipping into the very kind of instability that Mr Mandela so skilfully dispersed when he walked out of the Victor Verster Prison 24 years ago.
Crisis of unemployed black youths is America’s shame
Cheers all around in the US yesterday as the unemployment figures came in brighter than most analysts had hoped. But scratch a little deeper and you get a picture of a country where the economic fortunes of its citizens seem as starkly divided down race lines as in South Africa.
I exaggerate, of course, but the racial breakdown of joblessness in the US goes a long way towards explaining the widespread disappointment at Barack Obama’s time in office. The rate of unemployment among blacks is 12.5 per cent – more than twice as high as the 6.2 per cent among whites.
Now, don’t be surprised if this sorry tale is spun by the White House as a sign of success: Washington DC press officers will tell you that marks an improvement on recent months. But the real reason the rate is coming down is because thousands of black Americans are simply giving up looking for work. The way the numbers are gathered means that, if you abandon hope of finding a job, you are no longer counted as “unemployed,” simply “not in the labour force”. And that means you fall out of the tally used for the unemployment rate.
This really counts because the number of black Americans giving up on the job market is rising rapidly, with more than 300,000 dropping out since July.
If that was not heartbreaking enough, it gets even worse when you look at the figures for young black teenagers. Of these, nearly 36 per cent are looking for work – again, a rate twice as high as for their white counterparts. While that is not as bad as the 41.6 per cent seen in July, it has worsened since September.
Now 241,000-strong, this city-sized crisis of unemployed black youths truly shames America.Reuse content