South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid

Unit 8. Building Democracy After Apartheid

However, the pace of economic change has been slow, with little appreciable redistribution of national wealth. Some critics claim economic power still resides among white corporate interests and that ANC rule represents merely an "elite transition." The democratic government's initial economic policy framework was the Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP). It built upon the "Freedom Charter" policies of the ANC and its labor and political allies. This plan, which envisaged redistribution, was soon superseded in 1996 by the more pro-business Growth, Employment, and Redistribution strategy (GEAR). Globalization trends, need for foreign investment, and fluctuating mineral prices encouraged fiscal prudence along the lines of GEAR. Inside the country, competition between different interests meant that the government had to compromise on its reform and redistribution agenda.

The issue of land reform epitomizes post-apartheid compromise. Land dispossession lay at the heart of the inequality of colonial and apartheid South Africa in which the white minority owned nearly 90% of the land. Land reform therefore became a major political demand of black opposition groups and was a central pillar of the ANC's program both before and after 1990; the first legislation enacted after the 1994 elections was the Restitution of Land Rights Act. Since then, the process of land restitution has been very slow and cumbersome, partly as a result of the government's adoption of a "willing seller, willing buyer" market approach, and partly due to bureaucratic problems and the sheer difficulty of evaluating tens of thousands of claims. Some analysts have warned that if South Africa is to avoid social conflict in the future it must resolve chronic hunger for land. In both rural and urban landscapes, the unequal infrastructure that is the physical legacy of apartheid will remain for some time.

Land problems of a different nature also confront South Africa. Decades of apartheid misrule led to extensive erosion, overstocking, and unchecked mining and pollution, which devastated many parts of the environment in a region of fragile ecosystems with variable rainfall. Community groups in Durban, for instance, have campaigned against pollution that is the product of two apartheid-era causes: social engineering that forced blacks to live in close proximity to deadly polluting industries and the greed of transnational corporations that continue to poison the environment.

One of the most important challenges for South Africa is coping with the devastating effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic that exploded during the first decade of freedom. Today, more than five million of South Africa's 50 million people are HIV-positive, more than in any other country. Each year, 310,000 South Africans die of AIDS, according to UNAIDS. High drug prices demanded by Western pharmaceutical companies, ineffective government response, and pervasive social stigma and fear connected to the disease were critical factors in creating this health crisis. President Mbeki and other South African political figures held controversial views about AIDS, which negatively affected the government's ability to combat the spread of the disease and provide effective treatment to patients. An ex-Black Consciousness activist and one of Africa's leading intellectuals, Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, said in 2000 that South African leaders' skepticism about the causative link between HIV and AIDS was "irresponsibility that borders on criminality." As a result of the AIDS crisis, new social movements in South Africa such as the Treatment Action Campaign successfully sued the government to extend access to treatment to people in public hospitals. TAC and its allies advocate prevention and work to reduce the stigma surrounding the disease by encouraging HIV-positive South Africans to use their political power and constitutional rights to gain access to life-saving drugs. In 2006, after many years of inadequate prevention and treatment programs, national AIDS policy improved, and, in 2009, President Zuma’s policy came further into line with international treatment guidelines, for example for pregnant women and infants.
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