A Brief Snapshot of Modern South Africa

En route to Zambia, we stopped off for a few days of meetings with some of the bigger players in the donor world including USAID. They are one of the largest donors in the world and it sure felt like it as we made our way into their complex just outside Pretoria. With security systems that would put an average embassy to shame (depositing everything buy your underwear at the front door) we made our way to what turned out to be literally and figuratively a hermetically sealed little piece of the USA, encased in blast proof iron and plopped down on a windy plateau on the outskirts of the city.

Our trip to and from Pretoria offered some very interesting insights into modern South Africa. Our driver was a middle class black man who has clearly taken the opportunity of the post apartheid years to develop his own business yet his frustration with the current government was palpable. Pointing to the weeds growing on the reservation of the main highway as we sped along, he wondered aloud  exactly what was stopping the government creating jobs, and why they failed to focus on the obvious needs of the country.

As we passed the huge campus building of UNISA he recounted how the Presidency of the University happened to be held by an individual who was origianlly a member of the ANC but had recently joined the new splinter party – COPE. The political nature of this appointment has now been laid bare by the ANC’s demand that he rescind his position as University president. How, the driver rightfully wondered, could the country’s primary university be appropriately run when positions of responsibility are so obvioulsy at the mercy of political allegiances?

One of the most arresting sights of our week was being greeted by two homeless and destitute men at a traffic lights close to the city. So much so normal for South Africa, except for the fact that these men also happened to be white. Over dinner with some long time educators we heard stories of affirmative black enrollment in the colleges is leading to significant pressure being placed on teachers to not only pass but inflate grades given to some black students. Incidents of fail marks being ignored or revised by the college board appear sadly to be not uncommon.

Can all of this be possibly be counted as progress? Well of a ‘warts and all’ sort, then I guess yes, in that there does appear to be a greater degree of equality between the races certainly at the socially deprived end of the spectrum. However, to see both black and white reduced to equality at the very lowest common denominator seems a sad conclusion to the post apartheid process indeed.

Equally disheartening is the general feeling you get in South Africa of a slow but pervasive decline in much of the social fabric. The country’s leadership seems to comprise of a cadre of the ANC officials who whilst rightly lionised for their role in the struggle to end apartheid also seem to have become untouchable regarding any charges of corruption, cronyism and other ills that have formed in the absence of a significant political opposition.

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  1. […] in Uncategorized. trackback I felt a little under qualified blogging a few weeks ago on my impressions of South Africa. I was only there for a week after all and who am I to judge the ANC’s today after such a […]



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