How is free education affecting South Africa?

Domestic conflicts

Christian von Soest

Dr. Christian von Soest is Lead Research Fellow and head of the research focus "Peace and Security" at the German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA). He is also an employee of the GIGA Berlin office. His research interests include international sanctions and interventions, authoritarianism, governance and statehood. His regional focus is southern Africa, especially South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana.

South Africa is an example of an overall successful peace process. The greatest threat comes from massive social and economic problems for which a corrupt ruling elite is responsible. In view of the lack of reform steps, President Cyril Ramaphosa cannot fulfill the hopes placed in him.

Advertisement for the ANC party: "Let's grow South Africa together" is written in large black letters on a wall painted yellow. (& copy picture-alliance / AP, AP Photo, Ben Curtis)

The way to peace

In 1990, South Africa's apartheid government released its most famous prisoner, Nelson Mandela, after 27 years in prison. The previously banned opposition parties were admitted, above all the African National Congress (ANC). Negotiations between the government and the opposition paved the way for the first general and free elections. In 1994, Mandela was elected South Africa's first black president. This laid the foundation for overcoming the racist oppression of the black majority of the population.

As early as the 1970s, opinion polls showed that the majority of the South African population did not want a violent decision in the conflict between the apartheid state and the resistance movement, but was prepared to compromise. This was all the more remarkable for the white population because the government had religiously justified apartheid since 1948. As early as the 1980s, President Botha had relaxed the central dogma of apartheid, the separation of the various "races", and introduced a three- chamber parliament which, in addition to the white majority, also included Indian-born and colored ("Coloreds") South Africans and Allowed South African women, but not blacks, limited political participation.

In 1990, President Frederik Willem de Klerk began the official negotiation process in order to at least save economic power for the whites and to secure political guarantees for the transition. Decisive for the change of heart in the camp of apartheid advocates were less the international sanctions and the pressure of the global anti-apartheid movement than cool cost-benefit considerations. Maintaining the repression had simply become too costly for the white upper class and businesses. For its part, the liberation movement ANC agreed to negotiations because it did not want to take power in a country devastated by civil war. Finally, from the perspective of the apartheid government, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, the long-conjured communist threat ("rooi gevaar" / "red danger") also disappeared.

South Africa (& copy Kämmer-Kartographie, Berlin 2012)

Achievements and advances

Liberal, white South Africans have sought dialogue with the ANC leadership in exile about the future of the country since the mid-1980s. All major parties took part in the first constitutional talks in December 1991. They agreed on the principle of equal rights for all citizens and at the same time renounced the constitution of rights for certain ethnic groups.

The difficult negotiations between the ANC and the government or the National Party (NP), which were repeatedly overshadowed by bloody attacks in the townships and often on the verge of failure, ended in 1993 with the adoption of a transitional constitution. The increasing violence in the country, the murder of Chris Hani, the leading ANC member and general secretary of the Communist Party (SACP), and the discontent of the black population because of the lack of social reforms forced rapid action: the first general and free elections in South Africa were already underway held in April 1994.

For the black South Africans, the elections were a solemn event with great hopes. With 19 million valid votes cast, the turnout was 87%. The ANC just missed a two-thirds majority with 62.7%, while the NP 20.4% and the IFP (Inkatha Freedom Party [1]) received 10.5% of the votes. As stipulated in the transitional constitution, a government of national unity was first formed, in which the ANC, the NP and the IFP were the largest parties. The newly elected President Nelson Mandela placed the emphasis on reconciliation and inclusion of all communities. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, like Mandela also a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a prominent opponent of apartheid, described the South Africans as "the rainbow people of God" and thus found a symbol with which everyone could identify.

After two years, the Constituent Assembly presented the country's final constitution. South Africa received a parliament with 400 members who are elected using proportional representation. The majority party provides the government and elects the president. For the foreseeable future, this or this will continue to come from the ANC, which dominates political life and has so far always received the absolute majority of the votes. The apartheid party, the NP, renamed itself several times and dissolved completely in 2005. Many members switched to the Democratic Alliance (DA) (then: Democratic Party), the formerly white liberal opposition party; formally the party even joined the ANC.

A "Truth and Reconciliation Commission" chaired by Desmond Tutus was set up to deal with past crimes. Under the motto "forgive but not forget", the crimes of all parties to the conflict should be exposed, confessing perpetrators should be granted amnesty and victims should be paid at least symbolic compensation. Many of the victims of apartheid learned for the first time about the fate of their relatives who had disappeared. The three-year - often painful - reconciliation process had a liberating effect on many people and serves as a model for similar commissions in other countries.

One critical objection is that the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission were implemented only slowly and that far too little funds were made available for the reparations program. Ultimately, hardly any political leaders of the apartheid regime and only a few members of the security apparatus were brought to justice. To this day there is a deep rift in the society of South Africa.

Income inequality and population groups in South Africa 2016
Here you can find the map as a high-resolution PDF file License: cc by-nc-nd / 3.0 / de / (mr-kartographie)

Problems and deficits

Even if more than 25 years have passed since the peaceful transition in South Africa, many of the legacies of apartheid continue to have an effect. The social classes have become more permeable, and more black South Africans than ever before have achieved economic advancement. The government also improved basic services, for example through a large-scale construction program and the expansion of health and power supplies.

But to this day, the vast majority of black South Africans and the so-called "Coloreds" suffer from economic marginalization and poverty. Despite special government programs and the Black Economic Empowerment program, their level of education and the ability to get better-paid jobs are far lower than that of the white population, who make up only about 8% of the total population. South Africa's score on the Gini Index, which measures a country's income distribution, is 63.0. This is the worst value worldwide (Germany: 31.9).

High unemployment, an inadequate education system and poor health care are among the most pressing problems. The official statistics are 29% unemployed, the unofficial figure is 40%. More than half of the young people looking for work are unemployed. The number of people who receive government assistance is roughly four times higher than those who pay income tax. Since 2008 there have been repeated violent attacks on migrant workers and immigrants from other African countries as well as attacks and vandalism against state institutions in the former townships .

In August 2012, shooting by South African police officers at striking miners in Marikana, killing 34 people, marked a turning point in post-apartheid South Africa. Dissatisfaction with working conditions and poverty often lead to violent strikes and protest demonstrations, which are suppressed by security forces. Worldwide, South Africa is considered to be the country with the highest number of protests directed against inadequate state services ("social delivery protests").

Another consequence of the social inequality and lack of opportunities for many people is the extremely high crime rate. In surveys, crime regularly ranks at the top of the list of the biggest problems. South Africa is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. The number of rapes is also the highest in the world. The HIV infection rate is also among the highest in an international comparison: approx. 13% of the total population; 20.5% of 15-49 year olds; every fifth woman of childbearing age is HIV-positive. After initially fierce controversy, the state program for the supply of anti-retroviral drugs is now the largest in the world with 3.4 million patients.

The seizure of the state by corrupt members of the ANC leadership and the administrative elite - called "state capture" - had reached a climax under President Jacob Zuma, who resigned in February 2018. Accordingly, under Zuma, discontent in the country about poor governance , mismanagement and corruption grew massively. In particular, the expansion of Zuma's private residence at the expense of the state, numerous indictments and the political influence of an Indian entrepreneurial family angered the South Africans. Nevertheless, the ANC won the 2014 elections again with him at the top with 62.2% of the vote.

In the most recent elections in May 2019, the ANC under Cyril Ramaphosa was again by far the strongest force. With 57.5% of the vote, the ruling party suffered a significant loss of votes. It is by far the worst election result for the ANC since the end of apartheid. Surprisingly, the DA, as the largest opposition party with 20.8% of the vote, could not benefit from the general dissatisfaction, but even lost votes compared to the elections in 2014. Increasingly, the party is also considered eligible for black South Africans, but Many people are loyal to them Voters to the ANC remain large.