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South Africa: The Downside of Liberation By: Michael Radu
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, February 06, 2003


Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president, who is widely admired across the political spectrum more for his performance in office than for his beliefs, is now retired and thus free to express his long standing Marxist and often bizarre beliefs freely. He continually attacks U.S. "imperialism" and "arrogance" while voicing support for the likes of Libya, Iraq, and Cuba. This is not surprising. Despite the well deserved Nobel Peace Prize (shared with F.W. de Klerk) and his relatively moderate behavior while in office, Mr. Mandela did support violence in the past—a fact that is largely forgotten or trivialized. Indeed, in 1961 he was the founder of Umkhonto we Siswe ("Spear of the People"), ANC’s terrorist arm, and never during his long years in prison did he condemn that organization’s acts of indiscriminate terrorism. Moreover, throughout his career Mandela has remained close to regimes actively supporting terrorism – the former Soviet Union, Libya, Cuba.

There were good reasons for such fears, not the least being the decades old cohabitation of Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) with, and its penetration by, the Communist Party of South Africa (SACP), one of the world’s most committed Stalinist parties. There were also the ANC’s close links with the militantly leftist (and SACP dominated) trade union federation, COSATU. However, most of those fears turned out to be exaggerated. Once in power, the ANC (the leadership of which has since passed from Mandela to Thabo Mbeki) understood, or was made to understand by the collapse of the Soviet bloc, that capitalism is not a "white" thing, but rather is the reason South Africa is the continent’s superpower, with half of sub-Saharan Africa’s GNP. Capitalism was the only way it could remain in that position.

And importantly, despite the rhetoric about black economic oppression under apartheid, the fact remains that a black middle and indeed upper class had developed in South Africa, the interests of which had little to do with the traditional socialism advocated by the ANC throughout its history.

Yes, Mandela implemented an aggressive affirmative action policy once he took office—which slowed down the economy. His government established a criminal law code on the European model – abolition of the death penalty, excessive rights for accused criminals, etc., with destructive results. South Africa today competes with civil war–torn Colombia for the dubious distinction of being the world’s most crime-ridden country. Interpol’s International Crime Statistics say it all: in 1999 South Africa had 121 murders and 119 rapes per 100,000 inhabitants, compared with Colombia’s 69 and 6 respectively (and the United States’ 5 and 32). The trends are no more encouraging considering that in 1994 the world’s average murder rate was 5.5 per 100,000, compared to South Africa’s 45. In such circumstances, and with a slow justice system, which only produces a 10 percent conviction rate, South Africa has seen the rise of vigilante groups filling the void left by an incompetent (affirmative action, again – one third of policemen are functionally illiterate) and violent police – who between 1997 and 2000 killed 1,550 people, compared with 2,700 killed by the apartheid regime in 30 years.

The high crime rates, and a decline in educational standards, led to a massive emigration of white professionals to the United States, UK, Canada, and Australia. A 1998 poll of 11,000 skilled professionals suggested that 74 percent wanted to emigrate – with then-president Mandela responding with "Good riddance" to them. The problem is that not just professionals leave South Africa – major corporations also moved out, including mining giant Anglo American Co. and South African Breweries, both of which are now headquartered in London.

Most South African companies, including the largest, which are in the mining and energy fields, have black shareholders, whose interests are the same as those of shareholders everywhere: maximizing profits. And the economy is doing relatively well, at least by African standards. Indeed, the nation experienced a 2.6 percent growth rate in 2001 and, according to the CIA, had a GNP of $412 billion that year ($9,400 per capita). However, the unemployment rate remains very high among the black majority - with a lack of education and an inflexible labor market being the primary causes.

It used to be fashionable to accuse the apartheid regime of racism when it tried to control immigration from the rest of Africa. The issue remains even now that South Africa’s president is black. The people most hostile to African immigrants, most of them illegal aliens, are South Africa’s blacks themselves, who see their jobs lost to cheap immigrant labor and their opportunities lost in competing with foreigners. (Sound familiar?) The result is that today South Africa is implementing increasingly draconian immigration restrictions for foreign Africans and considering even more.

South African companies are involved as investors or consultants in most sub-Saharan countries, continuing a process started during the apartheid regime. Since then Pretoria has refrained from exerting its natural influence, and its restraint has only made things worse in most of Africa. A clear instance is the situation in Congo (formerly Zaire and now officially the Democratic Republic of the Congo), where an all-African war pitting six different countries killed hundreds of thousands while Pretoria remained largely ineffective. Even closer to home, while the criminal regime in Harare goes its way in transforming the once-prosperous nation of Zimbabwe into a basket case, Pretoria has had little to say, despite the Zimbabwe regime’s open disdain for South Africa. Although Pretoria has a decisive say on what Zimbabwe does or does not do, it for elects to protect Robert Mugabe’s Stalinist clique.

When it comes to African opinions at the UN, Pretoria also prefers to side with the worst. Libya for chairmanship of the UN Human Rights Commission? Yes, said Pretoria, and so did the rest of the African bloc. Support Mugabe’s "right" to be invited to Lisbon for the EU-African Summit? Yes again, at the cost of billions of dollars in aid to Africa. Mandela’s ideological legacy seems to be alive in Pretoria’s international behavior.

None of this should come as a surprise. The once dominant South African National Defense Force (SANDF) is now only a shadow of its past self, largely as a result of budget cuts and affirmative action, which put former ANC terrorist thugs and gang members in charge and led to a massive exodus of white and colored (mixed race) officers.

Since elections in South Africa are largely decided by race, the ANC is, for all practical purposes, the only political party that matters, and the distribution of power is decided by intra-party debates, rather than be negotiations with the largely ineffective opposition.

President Mbeki has a problem with his own ANC party, specifically with Nelson Mandela’s former wife, Winnie. Mrs. Mandela is the loose cannon of the ANC. A convicted torturer and felon and thoroughly corrupt, she remains a very popular figure with black South African youths and was repeatedly elected to the ANC leadership. The disturbing thing here is not so much Winnie’s criminality, awful as it is, as the general decline of South Africa’s judiciary, which is becoming increasingly more "African" and less and less Western.

Finally, there are Mr. Mbeki’s autocratic style and personal beliefs – such as those regarding AIDS. South Africa has the world’s largest number of persons living with HIV/AIDS: 5 million of its 44 million citizens are HIV-positive. Only 42 million are infected worldwide (Anne-Marie O’Connor, "S. Africa Has Doubts on U.S. AIDS Proposal," Los Angeles Times, 1/30/03). But Mbeki has repeatedly stated that he did not believe the "thesis" that AIDS is caused by HIV, or that it is a virus at all. Until last week, he even resisted making available, at foreign subsidized prices, the anti-retroviral drugs that have proven effective in preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV. (South Africa already has 660,000 AIDS orphans.) Considering that South Africa has the only real health care system in sub-Saharan Africa, such an attitude is nothing short of suicidal for the region.

Ultimately, it is South Africa that will decide the future of sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. But South Africa’s policy vis-à-vis the rest of the continent is still in flux, with many discouraging signs crushing hopes of a better future under its democratized rule. One must hope Pretoria will take the direction of common sense and free markets. South Africa has the responsibility for and would deservedly benefit from making the right choice. If it does not, Africa is doomed.


Michael Radu is Senior Fellow and Co - Chair, Center on Terrorism and Counterterrorism, at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.


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