After its long history under the appalling race-based apartheid system, one would have expected Black lives in South Africa to be be given the highest value. Unfortunately, reports Mushtak Parker, the lot of the country’s Blacks has hardly shown any improvement.
No country in the world has emerged unscathed by Covid-19. In Africa, countries have pockets of compelling success stories to tell, but its core socio-economic challenges, (good governance, accountability, economic upliftment, job creation and wealth distribution) well precede the onset of Covid-19.
It is 26 years since the collapse of apartheid and the coming to power of the ANC led by that global icon, Nelson Mandela. The last few months have also seen global protests against institutionalised racism in American law enforcement, spearheaded by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement following the killing in May of African-American George Floyd.
In South Africa’s post-apartheid transformation, do Black lives indeed matter more today than during apartheid? “Black Lives ought to matter more today, but they don’t – not enough, anyway,” explains Michael Morris of the independent think tank, Institute of Race Relations (IRR) in Johannesburg.
“Morally, post-1994 South Africa had an obligation to address the devastating legacy of apartheid – and the fundamental gains of the franchise and the dignity of freedom and equality are unarguable. The democratic dividend is reflected in material improvements in lives of Black people.
“But the legacy of apartheid remains a stubborn feature of society chiefly because it has been poorly addressed by ineffective policy – in schooling, empowerment, labour law and the economy.”
The Quality of Life Survey published by the Centre for Risk Analysis in Johannesburg last November, concluded that most South Africans desire a middle-class life in a city, with Gauteng and Western Cape tied as the provinces with the best quality of life.
White South Africans emerged with the highest quality-of-life score for the matric pass rate, jobs, expenditure exceeding R10,000 ($566) per month, mortgaged houses, waste removal, medical aid coverage and access to a basic sanitation facility, while outcomes were worst for Black South Africans on all indicators. This is exacerbated by the urban/rural divide.
The democratic dividend, contends Morris, was substantial in the first 13 years of ANC rule. The number of people with jobs doubled. Ten formal houses were built for every new shack being erected. The number of university students doubled. The murder rate was cut in half. The number of Black buyers of suburban property rose to rival the number of White buyers. In some private schools, Black enrolment in lower grades came to exceed White enrolment.
“Economic growth,” he adds, “rose to average 5% between 1994 and 2007. Government debt levels halved, and a budget surplus was recorded – something the ANC never received due credit or recognition for. Today there are more Black than White households in the top monthly expenditure bracket recorded by StatsSA.”
State capture and kleptocracy
It all started going pear-shaped after 2007, especially during the Zuma Presidency when state capture and kleptocracy became the norm. It was as if another pandemic had ravaged the country. Ramaphosa inherited an economy, nay a country, in crisis, where the majority were being left behind and Black Lives, especially the rural and urban poor, remained marginalised.
The danger is a convenient oversimplification of the complexities of a post-apartheid dispensation. Take gender-based violence and femicide (the intentional killing of women and girls). Madiba’s clarion call: “Freedom cannot be achieved unless [our] women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression,” rings like a perpetual verbal tinnitus in Ramaphosa’s ears.
In South Africa, adolescent girls have the highest rate of infection and are the biggest agents of transmission of HIV acquired from men, very often as a consequence of rape and sexual violence, which are very prevalent.
It would be a pity should ‘The Battle of the Lives’ – Black, White, Brown and All – is reduced to the politics of race, resources, resentment and inequality.
At the core is an ideological struggle. “Substantial shortcomings remain, largely because they have been poorly addressed by ineffective or counterproductive policies,” adds Morris. “The bulk of the victims of these failures are Black people.
“Today less than half of young people have work – and on current trends will never work; there are now more people in welfare than in employment; the quality of maths and science education in schools is rated at 128 out of 140 countries; roughly only five of every 100 children will go on to pass maths in matric with a 50% grade; half a million of South Africans have been murdered since 1994 at a rate which is today 30 times higher than in most civilised societies.”
The late Seddick Isaacs, who was on Robben Island with Mandela and Zuma, rued that political equality has not been matched by economic equality, which had deepened since the ANC came to power. This he insisted was driven by the strong element of corporatism within the economy. Despite the emergence of a Black middle class, economic wealth is still predominantly White-owned.
So, is the ANC in danger of compromising its revolutionary spirit? On the radical left, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EEF) has hijacked this narrative by pushing a radical interventionist agenda including far-reaching land reforms through the controversial expropriation without compensation (EWC) proposals or otherwise.
Economist Dr Frans Cronje argues that “the only way out is for the ANC to replicate the economic circumstances it was successful in achieving between 1994 and 2007, which raised South Africans’ living standards”. ANC reformists, he contends, had been reduced to a “minority influence who do not command the balance of power”.
Crisis on top of crisis
So, which socio-economic policy is the most appropriate in minimising or eradicating inequality and thus making Black lives matter more?
The first post-Covid-19 political test will come next year when nationwide local elections are scheduled. South Africans had great confidence in Ramaphosa at the start of the pandemic, but this support has waned as the ensuing lockdown got entrenched.
In the Eastern Cape, home of Springbok rugby captain, Siya Kolisi, the public hospital system has virtually collapsed due to poor leadership, lack of resources and clinical and allied staff. In the Covid-19 Drive-Through sites, it costs R850 per test – well beyond what millions of South Africans in lockdown could afford.
“Covid-19 is a crisis on top of a crisis, and those bearing the brunt are chiefly the poor and disadvantaged, the vast majority of whom are Black,”says Dr Cronje
Despite the gains since 1994, as a society South Africa continues to have entrenched fault lines – the slow speed of integration; rampant public debt accumulation; equal opportunities and equality failing; and rising resentment – all of which are serving to undermining Black lives mattering.
In July, Proteas cricket star, Lungi Ngidi, called on Cricket South Africa to support the BLM initiative. He got much support from fellow players and supporters across the racial divide, but he was also vilified by a few ex-Proteas White dinosaurs who dismiss BLM as “nothing more than a leftist political movement” – a common retort from Trumpian White supremacists.
The ghosts of white supremacy, even in Africa’s most developed country, continue to rise.