Writer: Mehmet ÖZKAN
When Nelson Mandela walked out as a freeman on 11 February 1990 after serving 27 years in prison, most of the people were in the sense of expectation that a civil war would broke out. It did not happen, but until 1994 when real political power transformation took place from white minority to black majority, the small versions of such clashes did happen. So-called civil war, by contrast to expectations, mostly took place among blacks, namely historically Zulus’ party Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and African National Congress (ANC), not between whites and blacks. The period of transformation – 1990/1994- witnessed not only contradictions and rumours, but also miracles. Contradictions was the fight among blacks, the rumours were the support of white minority group to IFP to trigger the peaceful transformation. The miracle was of course the leadership that has been shown by Mandela and other ANC leaders. Today’s South Africa is still facing the dilemma of miracle, rumours and contradiction. The only difference is the players.
The term ‘apartheid’ in political literature means more than ‘separation’. Thanks to South African history, apartheid entered the political philosophy as a political system like democracy, totalitarism or fascism. After apartheid ended in 1994, last 12 years of transformation in South Africa had brought little in economic conditions of poor, and service delivery to townships. Government with all his good intention are still lacking behind the expectation. As is well-known, political transformations does not mean automatically economic and psychological transformation. Political power is important but a slippery one. It initiates projects but none can guarantee that it will see the end. After 12 years, South Africa has been figuring out its place in global politics, role in Africa and possible contribution to. South African society psychologically due to historical legacy is quite disoriented. Racism (positively or negatively) is still the most single defining factor in many ways. Different groups (Indians, blacks, whites, coloureds, etc) do still live in their own ghettoes that was created during apartheid era. Social barriers are still quite strong. Cross-racial marriage or interactions are still limited to working environment.
Corruption, HIV/AIDS pandemic and unemployment could be defined as main problems that South Africa is dealing with today. Unemployment rate ranges between %26 and %40 depending on which statistic you choose to rely. The number of people who live with HIV/AIDS is officially five million, unofficially ten million out of 43 million total populations. With this number, South Africa has the biggest AIDS population in Africa, globally only competing with India. Corruption is like a political tradition in African politics. Especially after independence, African countries have raced in two things: getting aid from global donors and corrupting it. This was especially the case for first generation leaders who took their countries to independence. The second-generation leaders seem more careful in using public money and serving the society. Though such leaders are small in number, they are more influential in international and local political context. Old generation leaders and ‘those old in heart and mind’ have thought that politics is a business, and being politician is seemed as merely an employment for that matter.
The corruption-HIV/AIDS context, South Africa has had its most high-profiled judgment recently. President Thabo Mbeki fired Former Deputy President Jacob Zuma in 2005, because the latter having found a ‘generally corrupt relations’ with his ex-financial adviser by the Durban High Court. While this high profile corruption case is waiting to take its course in June-July, the nation has shocked by another incident that linked to the same person, Jacob Zuma. An old friend’s daughter who has HIV issued a rape case against Zuma. Even though the court concluded that Zuma is found ‘not guilty’ on 9 May 2006, during the court proceedings the largely white-dominated media has cartoonized a high-profiled Zuma basing their arguments on rape and HIV.
Psychological and mental imprint of apartheid history on South African society are quite vivid. As is the case in all colonial societies, South Africa’s psychological and mental liberation are still on the way. Far from having new, indigenous and local intellectuals, the society is battling to find solutions for deep-seated problems. Although, there is an increasing group of intelligentsia who are ready to re-define South Africa from many perspectives, the number of them and most importantly the influential ones are few. This nascent group is different from those who become influential after the independence in colonial countries in Africa. The group are, to a large extent, more preoccupied with Africa than South Africa. They deeply believe in African Renaissance- the rhetoric that has been favoured by Thabo Mbeki of South Africa. In that field of transformation, there can bee seen huge hope for future, which might re-define Africa’s role in global politics in coming years in general.
While South Africa consolidated internal politics during Mandela presidency (1994-1999), after Mbeki elected it developed and implemented more rational and long-term oriented policies internally and externally. Internally government engaged a huge redistribution of wealth process between historically advantaged whites and historically disadvantaged blacks. Black Economic Empowerment and Affirmative Action have been the pioneering plans in this regard. It is not necessary to go into details but it is fair to say that there is many controversies related to these a plans. Highly respected people in the society such as Desmond Tutu, who won also Nobel Peace Prize, are very critical and saying it serves only a small group of people rather than entire society. South African president Thabo Mbeki’s brother Moeletsi Mbeki has become more critical by saying South African state is ‘a distributing state rather than productive one’.
Overall South African society and government have been dealing with to transform society. ‘Transition’ took place in 1994, but ‘transformation’ is still taking time, it seems it will take more. Economical, mental and social injustices are the words to define South African society. On the one hand, there is a strong government with a strong economy, on the other, a weak society and social economy in terms of social conditions prevails. One is a timely-bomb; the other is the engine of Africa. The imbalances between state and society is something to watch carefully in South Africa, because unless a balance is created, South Africa will be living on the verge of crisis and social disorder.