What future for South Africa?

ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 05:00 15/12/2013
Xhosa woman overlooking Qunu
Getty Images

LEGACY: A Xhosa woman poses on a rock overlooking Qunu as preparations continue ahead of the funeral of former South African President Nelson Mandela

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OPINION: In African culture, the death of a loved one does not mean they are no longer with us.

Nelson Mandela was South Africa's saviour, liberating its people from apartheid. He was loved by everyone.

A 10 day period of official mourning comes to a close today with his funeral on the Eastern Cape. Although its people are temporarily united in their grief, under the current government the Rainbow Nation has been plunged into uncertainty.

Mandela had another legacy from his term as president. He proved to the global community that an African nation can be run efficiently. His government stabilised the economy and stimulated growth that lasted for a decade and a half.

However, the global financial crisis pushed South Africa into recession and it has struggled to come out the other side.

In the past year the three main rating agencies, Fitch, Moody's and Standard & Poor's, have downgraded the country, with two placing it on a negative outlook.

Twenty years after the fall of apartheid, economic divisions are stark. Official unemployment stands at just over 25 per cent - but that doesn't include large numbers who gave up looking for work long ago. Although it is Africa's largest economy, growth is too slow to bring down the stubborn jobless totals.

There is a vast gulf between rich and poor: black households earn about a sixth of whites. From one end of Johannesburg, the country's commercial hub, to the other the differences are extreme. In Pretoria - the home of government - beggars approach cars stopped at traffic lights.

In the plush northern suburbs of Melrose Arch and Houghton, Mercedes and BMWs slide through streets lined with palatial homes and designer shops. Drive half an hour and you will find slums and tin shacks, where people subsist on a couple of dollars a day.

South Africa will go to the polls next year - and there is little question the African National Congress will be returned to power. But the public are angry and disillusioned. Many I spoke to last week listed corruption as their number one concern: ahead of unemployment.

Close links between the ANC and unions are blamed for stymieing much needed labour law reform.

Mining and manufacturing sectors have been crippled by a series of strikes. Last year, tensions boiled over and 34 protesting platinum miners were shot dead by police. The current government pledged a national development plan, with structural reform to boost the business climate. But analysts say implementation is much too slow.

South Africa is now facing a raft of social issues, least among them the depressingly high crime rate: a rape is committed every 26 seconds, and an average of 50 people murdered every day. Educations standards have fallen, HIV is still rife, with inadequate access to health care. Economic growth is too slow to tackle these challenges, and its political leadership is lacking.

At a memorial last week, Mandela's successor Thabo Mbkei paid tribute to Mandela's legacy. But he went further adding: "I don't think we should end there, we must also ask ourselves a question: what about the future?"

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- Sunday Star Times

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