Today we all pay tribute to one of the world’s greatest democrats, who overcame many challenges and whose leadership and life inspired millions around the world.
Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison fighting against injustice of South Africa’s apartheid government. Shortly before entering prison in 1964 Mandela gave a speech about “cherishing the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.”
This passion for trying to create a better world served as Mandela’s guiding principle and served him well when he faced the greatest challenge of his life in building a new nation of South Africa when he was elected President in 1994. At his inaugural he said “We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.”
Indians shop for televisions at a big-box store. (Photo: BusinessWeek)
The middle class in emerging markets has started to draw attention as a force to be reckoned with. Economically, the global middle class has new-found wherewithal and an appetite for consumption, and in many cases is the product of upward mobility out of poverty. Politically, this demographic may bring new demands to assert itself in politics and policy. On October 9-10, Instituto Fernando Henrique Cardoso hosted a pair of seminars on “Democracy, Development, and Emerging Middle Classes.” This distinctive event was a joint effort with the Centre for Development and Enterprise in South Africa and the Centre for Policy Research in India.
Now, what the middle class is and what it means proved hard to pin down – and also fertile ground for debate. Those who focus on median income observe a significant, possibly fragile, shift away from poverty in Brazil and India. Others observe a qualitative transformation among certain groups, such as the expansion of the black middle class in South Africa through public service employment or a highly educated, globally connected middle class in India. The complexion of the middle class shifts depending on whether its members rely on the state or the market for their livelihood, and whether they are new or old entrants to this segment of society.
Mother and son in front of a daycare center in Soweto wearing jerseys of South Africa's soccer team (Photo: www.csmonitor.com)
The World Cup frenzy is fully on. As South Africa kicks off the first ever World Cup on the continent, the country that in 1994 captivated the world with its peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy is once more at the center of attention. What is South Africa like 16 years later? For sure, serious problems persist, including high rates of HIV/AIDS, income inequality, pervasive poverty, and violent crime. But there are also things to celebrate, and not just for soccer fans.
South Africa has made amazing strides since the end of the apartheid in 1994. Yet, even though it is the Continent economic engine, South Africa continues to suffer from poverty and inequality that have their roots in the apartheid era. The prime symptom is the country’s persistently high unemployment rate, currently of 23 percent. The global recession certainly does not help. But the core of the problem goes deeper: it is not a cyclical economic downturn that keeps the jobless rate high. Rather, it is the legacy of unequal economic opportunities in the past for the country’s majority that resulted in scores of people who, with no marketable skills, do not work and never had a formal job.
There is little consensus on a solution. But experts agree that joblessness is costly to South Africa, which helps support nearly one-quarter of the population with the developing world’s biggest welfare program. Some warn that chronic unemployment is a tinderbox for instability of the sort that flared last year, when poor South Africans unleashed a wave of violence against foreigners they accused of taking their jobs.
Ann Bernstein, executive director of the Center for Development and Enterprise in Johannesburg – a CIPE partner – adds: “Worst of all, unemployment is a terrible waste of human potential. Almost every unemployed person could and should be doing productive work that would improve their lives and develop the country.”
President Jacob Zuma, a populist elected a few months ago on promises of spreading wealth, has pledged to create half a million jobs this year and 3.5 million more by 2014. But the promised jobs are temporary public works positions that might not lead to true employment gains. And with South Africa now in recession after years of steady growth, economists say the government will have a hard enough time saving jobs, much less creating them.
Economic inclusion cannot happen overnight. But it is clear that 15 years after oppression of the apartheid ended, most South Africans still struggle with gaining access to skills needed in a modern marketplace and can’t fully participate in their country’s economy.
Big sporting events are no longer just about competition among athletes. As we all know, they are also about money – especially when construction of the infrastructure gets into the picture. And where there is money and construction – there is corruption. Welcome 2010 World Cup set to take place in South Africa.
In a somewhat stunning (but perhaps not so surprising to those of us familiar with the workings of corruption) development, a person who blew a whistle on corrupt transactions during the construction of one of the stadiums for the world cup was shot and killed this past weekend in South Africa. (The link to the actual expose on corruption is here).
This is another reminder that corruption kills and that its not only about moral calls for transparency and good governance. While the killing sparked a rather loud protest against corruption in South Africa (at least in the online media circles), I wonder if official bodies (local and international) will pay closer attention to corruption there and take concrete steps to ensure transparency.
And what about Sochi and the construction boom expected there?
The scenes of recent anti-immigrant violence in South Africa have shaken to the core the perceptions of post-apartheid bliss. South Africa, which remains the continent’s economic hub and in 1994 became a paradigm of peaceful political transition, is now forced to re-examine the progress made over the last decade or so. There is democracy, but does it really deliver? There is economic growth, but does it reach everyone?
After South Africa’s widely condemned apartheid regime ended in 1994, the country became a “rainbow nation” of truth and reconciliation, an African miracle of economic success, and a beacon of hope in a continent that had seen too much wanton destruction. But the violence against African foreigners that began in a poor Johannesburg township and spread to other parts of the country this month exposed the bleaker picture beneath the air-brushed images.
Despite impressive economic growth rate of 4.5 percent, the motto of the African National Congress (South Africa’s ruling party) “A Better Life for All” remains largely unfulfilled. Inequality has grown, the government has failed to deliver housing and basic utilities to many, desperately poor shantytowns keep on expanding around the booming urban centers, and unemployment rate is at least 28 percent. The eruption of violence against poor immigrants, whom the locals blame for perceived exacerbation of their own dire situation, is a warning sign that urgent reforms are needed.
With such formidable challenges – and anti-foreigner violence threatening to spread further – South Africa’s government is losing the confidence of those who embraced it with high hopes over a decade ago.
But there is still hope and it’s not too late to act upon it. The key to success it to involve the poor into democratic decision-making and help the country’s many small entrepreneurs realize their full potential.