Struggle belies South Africa's potential


The result of the recent South African election was not unexpected but it was disappointing. This was the election when the first of the "born free" generation voted, voters born after the ending of Apartheid in 1994.

They seem not to have voted for the ANC, which at its fifth electoral victory secured 62.5 per cent of the votes compared with 65.90 in 2009 and 69.69 in 2004. Its main rival the Democratic Alliance was up at 22.23 per cent from 16.66 in 2009. The most rapidly growing political organisation, the Economic Freedom Party, recorded a creditable 6.35 per cent at its first contested election.

About 25 million people were eligible to vote and 18 million, 73.4 per cent, did so, down on the previous election of 77.3 per cent, reflecting disenchantment with a political process dominated by the ANC and President Zuma, a buffoon and the butt of many justified jokes

South Africa has not moved far from the crossroad it stood at after the first free and multicultural election in 1994. The prospect for failure and decline is as strong as that for creative growth.

The South African population is 53 million. The birth rate is 19 per thousand or about 1 million a year, with 30 per cent of the population 15 years or younger. The population increase in 2013 was about 500,000. There are 5.26 million people with HIV, or about 10 per cent of the population, up from 8.9 per cent in 2004. Of those between 15 and 49, 16 per cent have HIV, up from 15 per cent in 2004.


Unemployment is running at 25 per cent but black youth unemployment is 50 per cent, feeding armed robbery, home invasion, carjacking and other violent crime, including sexual assault and rape. There were 65,000 cases of reported rape in 2012. South Africa has one of the highest incidents of murder, about 50 a day.

White farmers have been particularly singled out for attack and murder, indicating not only high levels of rural black poverty but resentment at white ownership of land.

The ANC came to power with Mandela, financial sanctions and internal protest by black youngsters who were not members of the ANC. It has an unhealthy sense of entitlement and acts as though it were an instrument and element of the state.

The South African economy is struggling to meet the needs of a rapidly growing population, although the "black" economy is substantial and sustained by refugees from central Africa and economic opportunists from West Africa, particularly Nigeria. Estimates put their numbers at above 2 million. The government says there are about 700,000 genuine asylum seekers from other parts of Africa.

Many local black South Africans resent their presence and see them as competitors for scarce jobs.

Debt is running at 44 per cent of GDP, growth was 1.9 per cent in 2013; mining contributes 10 per cent to the economy but is 60 per cent of foreign revenue. Strikes have cost platinum miners $A200 million in the past 18 months with violent police action aimed at ending the disputes costing mine workers their lives.

Since 1994 more than 3 million homes have been built for poor blacks but the need remains overwhelming with millions of black South Africans living in squatter camps, without running water, sewerage or electricity.

Although increasing its vote the Democratic Alliance, led by former veteran journalist Helen Zille, has in its present configuration, probably peaked. It is seen as a party of white free traders with a social conscience. Its roots can be traced back to the old white opposition Progressive Party of the Apartheid era. Nonetheless it attracted more than 1 million new voters, many of them black.

The rising black star is Julius Malema, formerly with the ANC Youth League, who now heads the Economic Freedom Party. The members like to refer to themselves as the Economic Freedom Fighters. The EFP thinly veils its anti-white message. It wants all white farmers off the land and it wants to nationalise the mines. It promises homes, education, jobs and health care. His message appeals to those the ANC has neglected. Malema has faced charges of corruption and is a dangerous and rogue element.

The potential for South Africa to achieve great things is obvious to anyone familiar with the country. An organisation I helped to establish has grown beyond expectations in just under 10 years. Ifa Lehtu was brought into existence to curate works of art returned to South Africa by me and my predecessor at the Australian embassy. These works were produced by black South African artists. The only way they could be shown was under diplomatic immunity. Many were bought by expatriates and diplomats.

More than 700 works have now been donated back to South Africa. Ifa Lethu now teaches art, textiles, craft and culture in schools throughout South Africa and designs and produces cheap and smart items of clothing. It employs an increasing number of young people.

South Africa craves leadership and positive input. A small investment in human capital pays substantial dividend.

Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and former diplomat, posted to South Africa from 1976/79. He helped newspaper editor Donald Woods escape South Africa, portrayed in the film, Cry Freedom. From 1990/93 he ran a program bringing black South Africans to Australia for training and in 2004-05 helped establish Ifa Lethu.