Blaming apartheid for South Africa’s ‘toxic mix of socio-economic challenges’ – as the origin of continuing sporadic bouts of xenophobic violence – is really an admission of failure.

It is difficult to be sure just what African diplomats made of international relations minister Naledi Pandor’s comments when she briefed them on Monday on the most recent outbreak of violence against foreign nationals, but one could hazard a guess that it was not much different from what most South Africans think.

Pandor certainly couldn’t be faulted for identifying high rates of criminality and violence among some South Africans as well as among some immigrants as having ‘occurred alongside a complex and toxic mix of socio-economic challenges’.

But, in adding in her very next line, ‘The legacy of apartheid was deep and rigidly entrenched inequality for black people’, she appeared to pass the buck. It is not that this statement is untrue. The truth of it cannot be restated enough; it is not controversial.

The piercing question is why it matters 25 years after the inauguration of democracy. And the answer, which Pandor in fact provides, is that South Africa labours still under ‘a complex and toxic mix of socio-economic challenges’ which a quarter century of African National Congress (ANC) policy is self-evidently failing to deal with effectively.

In her quoted remarks to the African diplomats on Monday, Pandor is reported as saying that ‘we need to look beyond this violence to seek answers’. This is the kind of sentiment to which is always attached the phantom condition of ‘long-term solutions’.

The trouble is that, over the long term, South Africa is always looking for long-term solutions.

In 2019, this interminable search is testing South Africans’ credulity. It is no longer nearly sufficient – or, frankly, accurate – to point to a receding episode, however damaging it was, and use it to explain away the deficiencies of the lengthening intervening time. To do so is to give credence to the idea that 25 years is not ‘long term’, or that what we have failed to achieve in this time can be magically discounted from any calculation of South Africa’s trajectory.

And this has to be especially true of someone like Naledi Pandor, who has been a participant in the democratic project from the word go. She was elected to Parliament in 1994; she rose to become chairperson of the National Council of Provinces; and she has served in the Cabinet in the portfolios of education, higher education, home affairs and now international relations.

The reality of South Africa’s past 25 years, in which Pandor has been intimately engaged in policy- and decision-making, is crisply summarised in my senior colleague IRR CEO Dr Frans Cronje’s annual report in June this year.

The chronicle begins with the ANC of Nelson Mandela opting for the more pragmatic economic approach of the Growth, Employment and Redistribution, or GEAR, policy that sought to drive socioeconomic upliftment through investment-driven growth.

‘Matched with the good fortune of interest rates that were cut in half, cheap surplus electricity, relatively low household debt levels, and the commodity boom,’ Cronje said, ‘South Africa under Thabo Mbeki initially made some progress. The number of people with jobs doubled. Ten formal houses were built for every new shack being erected. The number of university students doubled. Economic growth rose to average 5% between 2004 and 2007 as government debt levels halved and a budget surplus was recorded.’

Then came the Zuma years. Under Jacob Zuma – who was not imposed on, but was chosen by, the ANC – the party not only tolerated the long-denied, now universally decried, looting of the State, but ‘turned the policy clock back to the socialist dogma of 1969, cancelling more than ten bilateral investment treaties, introducing mad immigration rules, the even madder National Health Insurance (NHI) proposal, the draft mining charter, hiking minimum wage levels, and turning the screws on ever more onerous racial edicts’.

Cronje observed: ‘That these shifts further coincided with the global financial crisis in 2008 created the perfect governance, policy, and economic storm best highlighted in South Africa’s rate of economic growth peeling away from the global average in a pattern last seen in the late 1970s, in unison with declining levels of job creation and declining popular confidence in the future’.

Even today, apologists identify ‘state capture’ as the crisis, and removal of the rot of corruption as the cure, but blithely overlook the damaging policy choices that accompanied it, and, worse, continue to define the programme of Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration.

The implications are stark.

Today, less than half of young people have work – and on current trends will never work; there are now more people in welfare than in employment; the quality of maths and science education in schools is rated at 128 out of 140 countries; roughly 5 of every 100 children will go on to pass maths in matric with a grade of 50%; half a million of our fellow countrymen have been murdered since 1994 at a rate which is today 30 times higher than in most civilised societies; government debt levels have doubled over the past decade, the deficit again plumbs apartheid-era lows, and the State is fast running out of money; and, even if Treasury forecasts are realized, South Africa remains an emerging-market laggard in terms of rates of economic growth.

Unsurprisingly, these conditions represent a historic risk for the ANC itself.

According to IRR analysis, less than half of people with matric are inclined to vote ANC, and less than a quarter of university graduates – in fact fewer people vote ANC than those who will not vote – while rates of violent protest action are up over 300% over a decade, collectively foretelling the prospect of political defeat for the ANC by the end of the decade, along with the prospect of a coalition with the hard left.

‘As the fiscal and political pressure builds,’ Cronje pointed out, ‘the ruling party displays ever more dangerous behaviour; it turns with ease to hate-filled racial nationalist rhetoric [just last week, the party’s secretary general Ace Magashule suggested that white South Africans were actually ‘foreign nationals’]; it sides too comfortably with the worst pariah regimes the world has to offer; it proposes media tribunals and hate speech laws in order to foster social cohesion; in response to depressed economic conditions it offers more State encroachment; there will be state-owned mining, and banking, and even pharmaceutical firms; poverty will be addressed via redistribution and historical injustices via expropriation; racial divisions via the stricter enforcement of racial quotas; jobs will be created by stricter labour laws and higher minimum wages; and its moves, now so swift, towards eroding the property rights that anchor human liberty in all free societies open the door to the further erosion of civil rights and the rule of law.’

If this is the sum of democratic South Africa’s response to the damage wrought by apartheid, it can only guarantee that the solutions will be very long term indeed.

But there can be little doubt that this is where the country’s attention must fall if, as Pandor recommends, it really wants ‘to look beyond this violence to seek answers’.


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