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South Africa’s new apartheid – Part 1

A to Z list of what we cannot simply blame on apartheid, what we would not have expected of a government that claims to be committed to social justice, to fundamental human rights, to eliminating poverty and to correcting the inequities of the apartheid past.



We are often told by the ruling party that given the massive legacies of apartheid, we – and poor, black and marginalized South Africans in particular – cannot expect things to change overnight, that twenty years are too short a time in which to have brought about fundamental changes.

At Madiba’s memorial service for example, President Zuma made the point that “He (Mandela) told us that the promises of democracy would not be met overnight and that the fears of the few would not be allowed to derail the newly won freedom.  And we all agreed with him….”.

Was this co-option of Madiba to somehow justify the slow pace of service delivery?  While it is certainly true that apartheid’s legacies remain manifest in many aspects of our political, economic and social lives, progressives who were engaged in the anti-apartheid struggle in one form or another would not have expected a number of things to occur in a post-apartheid society, things for which the ruling alliance – rather than the apartheid regime of the past – bears primary responsibility.

This is an A to Z list of what we cannot – legitimately or expediently – simply blame on apartheid, what we would not have expected of a government that claims to be committed to social justice, to fundamental human rights and freedoms, to eliminating poverty and to correcting the inequities of the apartheid past.


A is for the ARMS DEAL
that, within 4 years of the country’s first democratic elections, would begin to consume in excess of R50 billion to purchase corvettes, submarines, Gripen and Hawk jets and helicopters, when we would have expected our new government to declare real war on poverty, on illiteracy, on disease and on unemployment.  Much of these military purchases are now considered unnecessary, the arm’s package “offset deals” touted to catalyse employment and investment have largely failed to materialise, and senior ANC leaders and the ruling party still carry the stench of massive corruption associated with this deal.  At the time of the deal being approved, the Health Minister had rejected providing ARVs to HIV-positive pregnant mothers to prevent the transmission of HIV to their newborns as being too expensive.  Experts say that for the cost of arm’s deal, nearly 2 million RDP houses could have been built which would have come close to eliminating the housing backlog.  This deal and its related cover-ups also undermined parliamentary democracy and constitutionally- independent institutions charged with protecting our democracy.

While there was an obvious imperative to ensure the more equitable distribution of wealth in a post-apartheid society, rather than transform the economic system inherited from the apartheid era, the ANC government entrenched it with Black Economic Empowerment strategies and laws that benefited a relative few, making them stakeholders in and defenders of an economic paradigm that systemically causes job losses to occur and which enabled those who benefited from apartheid to benefit even more in the new dispensation, thus exacerbating inequality.  For all the complaints from within the ruling alliance that while the majority had achieved political liberation, economic liberation was still out of reach, it was the ANC government that allowed itself to be captured through “black economic empowerment” schemes that were little more than a political protection racket in which the individuals connected to the ruling alliance were co-opted and paid handsomely as company board members, when they added little value other than a degree of political credibility.

Where is their Black Economic Empowerment?

Service delivery protests in the Western Cape where people were protesting for basic rights such as housing, electricity and greater infrastructure (Source: Henk Kruger)

Service delivery protests in the Western Cape where people were protesting for basic rights such as housing, electricity and greater infrastructure (Source: Henk Kruger)

C is for Crime in general and CORRUPTION in particular 
The Corruption Perceptions Index has South Africa falling three places since 2012.  The July 2013 Global Corruption Barometer indicated that 47% of South Africans had paid bribes over the previous year.  Apartheid was a crime against humanity, and revelations of corruption within that system were no surprise.  What we did not expect was that corruption would be so blatant, so endemic and reach so high within a democratic dispensation. Corruption Watch indicated that in 2013 alone, corrupt activities accounted for more than R300 billion.   The Special Investigating Unit estimated in 2011 that up to 400,000 civil servants had engaged in fraudulent activities.  Public sector corruption amounts to massive theft of resources that could be applied to transforming the lives of many for the enrichment of a few.  For all its rhetoric and corruption-busting infrastructure, government has shown little appetite for dealing decisively with corruption, particularly those who are senior party members.  Rather than “struggle credentials” holding people to a higher moral accountability, they have become the “get-out-of-jail-free” cards for many who may be guilty of grand scale theft.

We do exceedingly well at delivering “free and fair elections” every five years, but this is not all that there is to democracy.  We do not know who funds our major political parties and thus whose real interests are served by government after the masses have been co-opted with empty promises, government grants and food parcels as voting fodder.  The proportional system of representation makes members of parliament accountable to party bosses rather than to “the people”.  The manipulation of and executive interference in parliament (e.g. the suspension of SCOPA’s investigation into the arm’s deal) as well as the manipulation of and interference with independent institutions created to defend our democracy e.g. the sacking of Vusi Pikoli at the National Prosecuting Authority, and the co-option of the Public Protector, the Scorpions and the Auditor General to declare the arm’s deal free of corruption, have undermined the credibility of parliament and the effectiveness of parliamentary democracy.  Rather than constitutional institutions underpinning our democracy being strengthened by a progressive government, they have been compromised in order largely to defend ruling party – rather than country – interests.

(although it could also be for e-tolls, for Eskom and Electricity). Education is a key instrument in the hands of a post-apartheid government that could fundamentally change the lives of individuals and of our society.  With the education struggles of 1976 and 1980 having provided such major impetus to the broader anti-apartheid struggle and with that generation now largely entrenched as leaders of post-apartheid South Africa, we did not expect the non-delivery of text books to schools, nor that 95% of our schools would still be without libraries twenty years into our democracy.  Despite being allocated 6% of our GDP and with greater average public expenditure per black African than white learner (thus correcting the extreme inequality of expenditure under apartheid), the National Planning Commission itself states that “the quality of education for poor black South Africans is sub-standard”.  The poor literacy and numeracy skills of many of those who matriculate from schools catering for black African learners in particular are a serious indictment of our post-apartheid educational system.

Putuma school on the outskirts of the town Mthatha, where more than 50 South African pupils squeeze into one class. (Photo: Sydelle Willow Smith)

Putuma school on the outskirts of the town Mthatha, where more than 50 South African pupils squeeze into one class. (Photo: Sydelle Willow Smith)

F is for the FACTIONALISM …
that is not only tearing the ruling party apart, but is also impacting heavily on the delivery of services as factions within the ANC jostle for power, with the winning faction often purging civil servants deemed to be supporters of an opposing faction, irrespective of their expertise and experience.  The apartheid regime helped to foment violence within the black community and derived propaganda value out of “black on black” violence.  Progressives would not have thought that the ruling party, a once-proud liberation movement united around the noble goals of freedom and social justice, would deteriorate into a comrade-versus-comrade battlefield to access the levers of state power and the public purse not to serve “the people” as much as their particular faction.  It was seldom the case during the struggle against apartheid (when activists faced real threats from the coercive arms of the state), but today, leaders within different factions of the same ruling alliance employ bodyguards for fear of physical harm from other factions.  What has become of us?

G is for GUPTA
The landing of a private plane carrying wedding guests for the Gupta family at Waterkloof Airforce Base, a national security point, and the alleged political influence of this wealthy family from India reflects the extent to which the ruling party’s leadership and the President in particular, have been compromised, thereby damaging the integrity and image of the country in the process.

H is for HOUSES 
The ruling party – correctly – boasts of the number of new houses that have been built since 1994.  However, the complete absence of any design aesthetic, the size of these “matchbox” houses, their close proximity to each other and the quality of the building in many cases reflects an apartheid view of black people as sub-human.  The elite increasingly live in well designed, green, sumptuous and gated housing estates while the “people’s government” provides ugly houses in cramped and barren living conditions with little, if any green or recreational spaces.  Compare these houses with those where cabinet ministers – and the President – are housed.  We would not have expected such extreme disparities between those elected to serve the people and the people who elected them.

20% of our population earns 70% of the national income (at least half of this group comprises black Africans) while the poorest 20% accounts for less than 3% of national income (the overwhelming majority at this end of the spectrum are black Africans).  While average income for both the richest and poorest 20% rose by 45% in the decade 1995-2005, this happened from highly inequitable bases so that inequality has in fact increased dramatically in post-apartheid South Africa.  (Elite voices often complain about the relatively small number of citizens – meaning themselves – who carry the primary tax burden, but it is this same elite that earns most of the country’s annual income). While the poor majority is told that “change cannot happen overnight”, the reality is that for the politically connected change has happened overnight with thousands of “overnight” millionaires, at least some of whom have acquired such wealth not because of any real economic value that they have added, but generally (there are exceptions), either because of tenderpreneurship (the allocation of lucrative government tenders to individuals and companies supportive of the ruling party) or because of narrow BEE deals.  Progressives would not have expected South Africa to become one of the most unequal societies in the world after the demise of apartheid.

The bridge leads into the Khayelitsha township, one of Cape Town's poorest townships. (Art by Faith47)

The bridge leads into the Khayelitsha township, one of Cape Town’s poorest townships. (Art by Faith47)

J is for JUSTICE 
Or rather, the lack of it.  Under apartheid, black African people were criminalized simply for being black.  Black without a pass, on the wrong beach, on the wrong bench, for being with one’s family when they don’t have passes, etc would make one a victim of a police, judicial and prison system designed to uphold, defend and protect white privilege.   Today, the rich can afford lawyers, make bail and put up sophisticated defences.  The poor wait – in poor jail conditions – for an average of two years before being brought to trial, and have to depend on legal aid to mount a defence.  The politically connected are often not charged with crimes and those that are unfortunate enough to be jailed are pardoned early.  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission replaced justice with political expedience considered necessary at the time to effect a smooth transition, except that the survivors of human rights violations came off second best to the perpetrators of such abuse.  Prisons are overcrowded.  Courts have a huge backlog.  The political elite has concentrated more on transforming the demographics of the judiciary than on the delivery of justice.  Little wonder then that in many communities, people take the law into their own hands because they do not trust the justice system.  We would have hoped that in post-apartheid, democratic South Africa, all would be equal before the law, but this is patently not so.

K is for KILLINGS 
While people expected to die during the struggle against apartheid, there is simply too much death in the New South Africa.  14,000 road deaths annually.  An average of 40 murders each day, for being a lesbian, a child, a wife, a farmer, a policeman….  These are shocking and unacceptable.  Yet, after apartheid’s brutal deaths-in-detention and the extra-judicial killings of activists, progressives would not have expected the assassination of corruption whistleblowers in a democratic South Africa, the deaths in police custody (932 in 2011/12), and assassinations of political opponents (which some estimates put at more than 50 since 2008).  The allegations of a hit squad within the Durban police, the killing of protestors by police, the murder of a taxi driver by police in Daveyton – these were not supposed to happen in a democratic dispensation.

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South Africa: Police Brutality In Daveyton. Taxi Driver Dragged Behind A Police Van. 28 Feb 2013


L is for LAND…
(although it could also be for the poor leadership – albeit for different reasons – of Mbeki and Zuma and the collective leadership associated with each of these that were responsible for much of what this list deals with).  2013 marked the centenary of the Land Act which stripped black African people of their right to own land, leading eventually to 87% of South African land being under white control.  Government claims that from 1994 to 2013, 4,860 farms comprising 4 million hectares were transferred to about 250,000 black farmers, including 50,000 women, 32,000 youth and 674 people with disabilities, and yet it concedes that the land reform process has been slow and expensive because of its “willing seller, willing buyer” approach where farmers have been paid market prices for their farms, but budgets for this approach have declined.  In the meantime, large housing estates for the wealthy have sprung up all over the country along with numerous golf courses, while those stripped of land ownership by apartheid continue to wait for the land reform process to reach them.  While they wait, they may observe how some cabinet ministers and business people associated to the ruling party have had their worlds changed overnight, and have become proud owners of wine, game and other farms.  A constant refrain in this article is the vast disparities – and the obvious moral and political implications – between the political elite and the masses of people whom they are required to serve.

We have a public holiday – Human Rights Day – on 21 March commemorating the Sharpeville massacre of 1960 precisely to remind us of this apartheid atrocity, and to oblige us never to repeat it.  And yet, 18 years into democracy, 34 protesting miners (half the number of people who lost their lives in the Sharpeville massacre) were gunned down by the police.  Then, it was in defence of apartheid, a system that benefited a white minority.  Now, it was in defence of the interests of international capital and the local elite linked to the ruling party.  There has been no accountability, no apology, no marches by the ruling alliance in protest against this atrocity, just a drawn-out Commission that has thus far exposed the venality of the police leadership.  NUMSA’s decision to support the families of the victims is the first break in the ruling alliance’s attitude to the massacre, recognizing that workers are human beings – and in this case, not just political opponents – who have suffered in the process.

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Mike van Graan is one of South Africa’s most prolific – and critically acclaimed – playwrights, as well as a cultural policy activist. He is the Executive Director of the African Arts Institute and is the former Secretary General of the Arterial Network, a continent-wide network engaged in the African creative sector. He currently serves as a UNESCO Technical Expert on the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.  His plays include “Die Generaal” (The Generaal), winner of the Fleur du Cap Best New Script Award 2008; “Brothers in Blood”, a Market Theatre production that won the Naledi Theatre Award for Best New Play 2009, and “Iago’s Last Dance” which premiered on the Main Programme at the National Arts Festival and was nominated in the Fleur du Cap Best New Script category, 2009.


This article appeared originally on the author’s blog and is reproduced here with his permission.