Nelson Mandela and FW De Klerk received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts in securing a transition to majority rule in South Africa. This change was not without bloodshed, but certainly averted a more calamitous outcome at the time. In the ensuing years, the party of liberation pursued a ‘national democratic revolution’ in which governance took a back seat to ideology. The consequence is a litany of failure in virtually every sphere of government.
In light of current events, the contrast between the ability to govern and the tendency to rule could not be more stark. It is beyond dispute that apartheid caused great pain and suffering to many people for a long period of time. Still, what replaced it can be argued to be even worse for the majority of citizens. ‘Democracy’ is a thin veil for the heavy fist of a ruling political-business clique that is totalitarian in all but name.
Make no mistake; the agenda was clear well before 1994. ‘Making the country ungovernable’ was much more than reckless sloganeering in the 1980s. It represented a vehicle to establish an internal presence within the country by the ANC in exile. Anyone who remembers that period will be aware of how proponents of ‘the struggle’ dealt with their rivals and enemies in the townships and in military camps overseas.
There is a clear dissonance in South African political life: one in which the population conceives of itself as living in a democracy with all the accoutrements that this brings in a western country; while feeling outraged at the reality of how things actually play out on the ground. The crumbling image of expectation and the heavy burden of reality are a toxic mix for a nation that once promised so much.
The National Party left South Africa with the tragic legacy of apartheid and dispossession; the political elites now use that to further a specific agenda that is inconsistent with the goals of the Freedom Charter and the Constitution. The Nats, however, also left the country with a wealth of infrastructure and skilled people. Would a transitional arrangement that accommodated the institutions, talent and experience of the old, while still trying the meet the expectations of the new, not have been a better way? Would a government headed by both Mandela and De Klerk been a sustainable form of meeting the country’s immediate needs at the time?