South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid


Unit 8. Building Democracy After Apartheid

President Thabo Mbeki left some positive legacy, as well. His philosophy of the "African Renaissance" has sought to give dignity back to Africans and to reconcile global modernity with African tradition. Mbeki has promoted a vision of a non-racist, non-sexist South Africa. Under his leadership, in 2004 the ANC won over 70 percent of a free and fair vote. In the wider world, both Mbeki and Mandela previously have promoted peace in African political conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi. South Africa has supported major diplomatic initiatives, including some reform of the United Nations Security Council.

There have also been profound transformations in the social and cultural spheres since the end of apartheid. Censorship has gone; education has been racially integrated; and there is less residential segregation than before, though mostly in upper-class neighborhoods. The poor are mostly Africans (and, to a lesser extent, Coloureds), while a disproportionately large number of whites remain wealthy. South Africans seem to identify closely with the new nation. Changing social identities are expressed through language, music, sport, literature, and art. Just as "pennywhistle" music in the townships in the 1950s helped subvert apartheid by promoting free expression, so today vibrant musical forms such as kwaito and hip-hop foster a new multiracial popular culture.

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Urban mural art in big cities such as Durban and Cape Town affirms African cultural heritage submerged by apartheid, or conveys "safe sex" messages; these murals form a unique expression of ordinary people's perceptions of momentous change in their country. In sport, individual athletes and national teams represent this diverse nation in international competitions, sometimes successfully. In 2010 South Africa became the first African country to host the FIFA World Cup, the most popular sporting event in the world. In this global mega-event, South Africa aimed to showcase its modern, technologically advanced infrastructure and enhance its prestige as a rising African nation-state on the world stage.

After almost two decades of freedom, South Africa's democracy is a work-in-progress. The government certainly has made mistakes, some of them serious, as in the case of HIV-AIDS policy. Economic growth, a stable currency, and the respect of international financial institutions came at the cost of jobs and wealth redistribution. While the government has built many houses, it has been unable to meet demand. Land redistribution stands at less than 5 percent, well short of the ANC's targets. On the other hand, South Africa has achieved impressive gains in a relatively short time. The government has extended the reach of critical services (e.g. electricity, potable water, and telecommunications) to millions of people previously denied access to them. South Africa has established a progressive constitutional democracy, maintained peace, and fostered unity and reconciliation in a divided society. In 2012, the African National Congress is celebrating its centenary under the banner of “Unity in Diversity” and “100 Years of Selfless Struggle,” and people both within and outside the ANC are urging a renewed commitment to its highest ideals. Building a better future for all in the shadow of apartheid's harsh legacy is a complex task fraught with challenges, but democracy provides a process with enormous promise.

 
AODL African Studies Center MSU Matrix NEH