Anthony Sampson: Storms ahead for the 'rainbow country'

Capitalist enterprise, for all its dynamism, will not create a more multiracial society in South Africa
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The Independent Online

Tomorrow, South Africa will celebrate its first ten years of multiracial democracy, on the same day that Thabo Mbeki will be inaugurated for a second term as President. But how far has it really become a "rainbow country", liberated from the racist legacy of apartheid? The question is crucial, not only to its own people, but to other countries worried about the exclusion of minorities,who have seen South Africa as a model for multiracialism and reconciliation.

It is hard to answer, for South Africa has so many different faces that visitors can always find the answer that they want to find. Foreign businessmen and journalists who come to Johannesburg, the commercial capital, usually stay in the white suburb of Sandton 10 miles away, built in the heyday of apartheid, with palatial hotels and shopping malls cut off from the black world. They look out at gated white estates surrounded by razor-wire, eat in restaurants where white waiters serve white businessmen, and report that apartheid is alive and well.

Visitors to Cape Town, the favourite tourist destination, drive past the sprawling black shack-towns along the airport road, to stay in seaside resorts, or leafy suburbs surrounded by vineyards. They usually never meet anyone from the black middle class; while they encounter many white South Africans who talk as if the change of power in 1994 never happened.

The traditional segregation of the whites has in many ways been reinforced by the growing flood of tourists, who favour well-protected hotels which can provide secure enclaves safe from crime. Tourists can easily deduce that the rainbow is an illusion.

Yet visitors with other agendas can see very different countries. For the past 10 years, I've returned to South Africa for a week at least once a year, moving between whites and blacks, whether in politics, journalism or entertainment; and I've been struck by the extraordinary changes and non-changes within the country.

The most remarkable change has been in the parliament building in Cape Town, only a short walk from the Mount Nelson - though few tourists ever visit it. Parliament remains the showplace of multi-racial co-operation. While the opposition benches are largely white, the government benches have blacks, Indians and whites, who have been forged together by the struggle. The restaurants, corridors and offices which were once the stronghold of apartheid are now teeming with people of all beliefs and faiths, including Christians, Muslims and Jews, without any visible tensions.

And the recent elections emphatically showed the people's confidence in this multiracial democracy; not only through the turnout of 77 per cent, but through the amount of cross-voting, with many whites voting for the ANC and blacks voting for opposition parties.

In the commercial world, the transformations are also obvious, to those who want to find them. Johannesburg, away from Sandton, is full of multiracial meeting-places where black businessmen meet whites naturally.

Capitalism, with some prodding from affirmative action, has produced a growing black middle-class, benefiting from the boom in Johannesburg and Cape Town over the past year, and encouraged by the sharp recovery of the rand: at the most multiracial hotels, such as the Hyatt and the Rosebank, white businessmen are constantly doing deals with blacks without any sense of unease.

Even some of the poorest urban areas in South Africa, which are portrayed as evidence that apartheid hasn't changed, show signs of hope which they did not enjoy before. The shacktowns near Cape Town airport are less desolate than they look, with a creativity and enterprise that is revealed by black artists and writers who came from there. Downtown Johannesburg, which over the years has decayed into a black slum-land, is being revived by adventurous investors - like the American inner cities which were collapsing in the seventies.

But capitalist enterprise, for all its dynamism, will not create a more multiracial society; while the global marketplace has tended to increase inequalities in South Africa, as in other developing countries. The prosperous new black businessmen, including several multi-millionaires, have inevitably become more detached from their poorest countrymen.

South Africa still has two separate economic systems, a first world and a third world economy, separated by huge and growing disparities of income. To bring them closer together, as the black mayor of Cape Town emphasises, requires constant intervention by regional and local governments, which insist that developers planning luxury hotels or office-blocks must also provide decent housing for blacks in return. Left-wing leaders will remain the chief spokesmen for the dispossessed, who cannot be ignored.

Now that the spectre of a communist revolution has been removed, white businessmen - as Mandela has frequently stressed - are in danger of relapsing into the comfortable assumptions of "business as usual": they prefer to work with white colleagues rather than share their power and wealth with less privileged and less educated black managers and entrepreneurs.

In the meantime, the old racial tensions and rivalries - between whites and blacks, or between blacks and Indians and coloureds - are in danger of reasserting themselves. The Indians feel especially vulnerable as a racial minority caught between whites and blacks. They played an important role in the liberation movement, but many are now worried that the old prejudices will revive, without a common cause to unify them. This is the most serious predicament - apart from Aids - which Mr Mbeki will face, as he constructs his new government. His past government has owed much to the collaboration between ministers and officials of different races. And he personally has worked closely with Indian and white colleagues whose friendships were forged by the struggle.

In the crucial area of the economy, the much-admired finance minister, Trevor Manuel, who looks very white, was formerly a militant trades unionist who was classified under apartheid as a "Coloured" of mixed blood - a background which enables him to enjoy the confidence of non-white voters. But Mr Mbeki's new government will inevitably include younger Africans who have no personal experience of the liberation movement; and he is under pressure from the "Africanists" who are exasperated by the continuing white domination of the South African economy, and demand more rapid promotion of blacks, whether in government or business.

The "rainbow country" remains the outstanding model of a nation created on non-racial principles, after the traumatic experience of apartheid and racial confrontation which nearly tore it apart. In its first 10 years it has acquired a political stability and prosperity which few of its critics expected a decade ago. But it cannot rely on global capitalism and the free market alone to perpetuate and extend its inter-racial co-operation. It will need constant effort, both from government and businessmen, to break down the barriers, and to reduce the glaring inequalities that threaten its future peace.

Anthony Sampson has written the authorised biography of Nelson Mandela