Outlook: Nelson Mandela’s legacy is undeniable – but his scandal-riven successors are just not up to the job of preserving it

The South Africa of today  is, at best, underperforming its economic potential

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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Business Analyst - Financial Services - City, London

£50000 - £55000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Business Analyst - Financial Service...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Did you know? SThree is the o...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions