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Is It the End of 'Africa Rising'?


Only a stable and transparent government can achieve Mandela’s dream of a rainbow nation
AMIR HOSSAIN | Issue Dated: December 22, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Nelson Mandela | End of Africa Rising |

Several prophecies and predictions have outlined the future of South Africa after Nelson Mandela, over the last few years since his multiple hospitalisation episodes. David Blair of The Telegraph recently wrote in his blog: “For as long as he lives, South Africans breathe a little easier and believe in their country a little more. When the day after Mandela dawns, that belief will be shaken, not dramatically or immediately, but slowly and perhaps imperceptibly. South Africa will, quite simply, be a different country.”Post the unfortunate demise of Nelson Mandela on December 05, 2013, the question remains: is South Africa really potent enough to move on smoothly without Madiba Mandela?

As South Africa’s first ethnic chief executive, he and his government dismantled the legacy of apartheid (a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race). More importantly, he became the face of ‘Africa Rising.’ Thus, Africa became the second fastest growing region after Asia in the world. Even the President of the super power Barack Obama admittedly has been overwhelmed by Mandela’s revolution against injustice and apartheid; Obama said that Mandela “gave me a sense of what is possible in the world” and “strength to persevere.”

Nelson Mandela left the world at a time when the socio-economic fabric of South Africa has been weakening. The nation is currently suffering from a slowed growth rate, huge current account deficit (CAD), an alarming unemployment rate and income inequality. As per IMF projections, the South African economy is growing at a mere 2 per cent, while the average rate for sub-Saharan countries is hovering around 5 percent. IMF also revealed that the country has around 24 per cent unemployment rate in this year. A recent IMF report on the South African economy mentions, “While inequality along racial lines has decreased, income distribution in South Africa remains globally among the most unequal. At the lower end of the wage distribution, households’ purchasing power has stagnated over the last two decades.”

The South Africa Reserve Bank recently highlighted that the nation’s CAD widened to 6.8 percent of its GDP, which is the highest in the last five years. In the same lines, the lowest 40 per cent of people in the country contribute only 6 per cent to the nation’s economy. As per the International Business Times, the South African economy is the slowest in the Sub-Saharan region. Ferial Haffajee, Editor of the City Press newspaper, aptly highlighted the current scenario by mentioning: “Two South Africas: one that tweets on the best technology and one that does not eat.” Surprisingly, the divide between blacks and whites still remains, to a significant extent, economically if not politically. A national survey in 2007 estimated that a white South African earns eight times more than a black one. The situation has only worsened in recent years post the global slowdown.

At this time, analysts mention that South Africa needs a stable, strong and even prominent government to overcome all these challenges. But the current President Jacob Zuma himself is facing accusations of corruption and misuse of power. In one example, he was accused of spending nearly 206 million rand (then £14.4 million) of taxpayers’ money to renovate his residence in Nkandla, in KwaZulu-Natal province in 2012. Clearly, his charisma might not be enough to reinvigorate the South African economy. Fitch Ratings had warned at the start of the year that South Africa suffered from “rising corruption and worsening government effectiveness”. This month they confirmed that nothing had changed since then. For long, the government has been in the process of preparing a so-called National Development Plan, to focus on the issues of education, transport costs, competition, and collective bargaining. However, the plan is still in the blueprint stage and there is no concrete picture on when the plan would be implemented.

If Zuma really had wanted the economy to improve, the answer is not too far. From infrastructure, to generating local employment opportunities (by invigorating small scale businesses and service enterprises), Zuma can turn around the economic slowdown at a domestic level within two to three quarters. Then again, that would be possible only if the South African community were to have faith in him – a factor which is deserting him quite hastily. In the recent memorial service held for Mandela, Zuma was boo'd every time the cameras focused on him – compare this to the standing ovation that Obama was given by the same crowd. When it was time for Zuma to give an address during the service, the crowd thinned out and all but emptied out of the stadium where the service was held. Clearly, if South Africa has to improve, all signs point to first getting the political house in order, and then the economy.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017