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11 May, 2019 06:44

As it re-elects hopeless ANC again, do we finally admit that post-apartheid South Africa has failed?

As it re-elects hopeless ANC again, do we finally admit that post-apartheid South Africa has failed?

The ANC has yet again won a majority in South Africa’s general election despite its disastrous record, killing hope that the country will turn in the right direction. And the West must stop pretending this is just a glitch.

What’s wrong with the country that went to the polls on Wednesday to vote for a new National Assembly, goes well beyond the hard facts – unedifying as those are.

It’s not that half the population lives in absolute poverty, that more than a quarter of adults are unemployed, or that the country has yet again been declared officially the most unequal in the world. Nor is it the economic growth rate that has stagnated at below a two percent average for a decade, as the rest of the world recovered from the global crisis, or the regular blackouts, the violent crime rates, or that one in five adults is infected with HIV.


Rather, the story since 1994 is of a country being given a historic chance to show the way to prosperity and democracy for Africa – and failing to take it, exactly as the pessimists predicted.

This is not some nostalgic rant hankering for white rule in South Africa. Apartheid was neither fair nor sustainable, disappearing during a period that swept away much sturdier political ideologies.

But it did leave the newly-proclaimed Rainbow Nation with first-world institutions and systems, from a functional democracy to a competitive industrial base to a free press. Merely linear development in the past 25 years would have put South Africa on par with the more prosperous parts of South America and mid-ranking Eastern European states, which had just as big a transformation to deal with.

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Perhaps it is cause for celebration that the country has not disintegrated into the worst clichés about African strongmen and kleptocracies. But in a way, the slow ebb is even worse: South Africa feasted on its Boer legacy for the first few years, but with each passing year now it only falls further behind.

What societal model has the African National Congress, the party of Nelson Mandela, built in the stead of apartheid? A virtual one-party rule unchallenged in six elections in a row, creeping racialism, an elite black class built on patronage, and rampant corruption, with officials chafing at the colonial institutions and norms safeguarding it from becoming like the rest of the continent.

Descent to this state in say, 1997, would have been tragic, but to be here in 2019 is depressing.

One can insist that the country had to overcome the lack of collective experience of government or individual education among the population, that it had to stitch the social fabric back together. But then you are basically saying “Africans can’t govern themselves” in different words.

The hopeful Western media narrative ahead of the latest election was voters punishing the leadership for their mismanagement. If the 57.51 percent of votes the ANC has won according to official provisional figures – only four percent lower than in 1994 – is retribution for what is happening now, how much worse do things have to get before they lose the majority? 

And are we sure the ANC's replacement will be the center-right Democratic Alliance, with its focus on racial inclusiveness and good governance, rather than Julius Malema’s militant Marxism-inspired Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), keen to redistribute the land away from the whites and remodel the country’s economy? Now that really would usher in a new Zimbabwe.


In all mainstream coverage, incumbent President Cyril Ramaphosa, whom parliament will appoint to a five-year term, has been cast as a force for good for his promise to end the “era of impunity” that flourished under his predecessor, Jacob Zuma. Perhaps he will manage to overcome internal resistance from his party – with help from conscientious investigators and independent journalists – and correct the country’s course.

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But until that happens, a more sober view of South Africa is overdue.

The world invested a lot in Mandela as a hero, and his reformed country as a shining beacon, but pussyfooting around its problems fails to mask a collective loss of hope in a successful Africa and eventually becomes counter-productive.

It is not the European white man's job to tell South Africans how to manage their rich and spectacular land or who to vote for, but it is our duty to be honest with them if we think they have lost their way.

By Igor Ogorodnev

Igor Ogorodnev is a Russian-British journalist, who has worked at RT since 2007 as a correspondent, editor and writer.