Sipho Hlongwane
Sipho Hlongwane

Were things really better under apartheid?

See, this is why I don’t appreciate it when these foreign johns comment on the state of South Africa. They’re bound to get it wrong.

The worst thing about the World Cup is the masses of scribes, descending onto our little wedge of turf like carrion birds onto the carcass of a giraffe, to prod, peer, smirk and pontificate.

The most entertaining so far have been the British gutter press scribblers. Who can forget their delightful, if shrill articles, warning the unsuspecting tourist of the dangers of Africa? From hijacking baboons, killer snakes and warring tik gangs, they have been there every step of the way, informing and equipping.

Not even Ben Trovato could come up with some of their stuff (maybe if he stumbled out of a pub, as dizzy as an owl, and promptly fell into a vat of psychedelic drugs).

A recent offering, from the BBC no less, runs along similar lines, even though the Beeb journalist respects the readers’ intelligence enough not to feign outrage.

Hugh Sykes, the journalist in question, found a few black South Africans to give him the “some things were better under apartheid” soundbite, and he was away. And it’s quite a statement, coming from a black South African. But it begs the question: Some things were better under apartheid? Oh really? Like what — the police brutality? The fact that millions of South Africans were spared the enormous schlep of standing in a queue to vote for someone they implicitly mistrusted?

It is not undeniable that the prevailing mood post-1994 was one of exuberant expectation. RDP was supposedly going to fix everything. Blame it on naivety, or blame it on devious electioneering if you want, but the ANC eventually sobered up and realised that running a country isn’t as easy as running a pseudo-guerrilla war. That’s when Gear was implemented. Growth. It’s a terribly slow thing at the best of times (ask any teenager’s mom), and the economy is no different. But it’s the correct path, one that will eventually yield the highest returns.

The shift in focus from quick-fix to a more sustainable solution, forced in no small part by the reality that South Africa’s economy just wouldn’t be able to sustain sweeping socialism, doesn’t translate to the statement that things were better under apartheid. Sykes acted irresponsibly by making that connection, something I flatter myself to think no local journalist would have done.

Yes, the corruption, cronyism and general mayhem in our government departments isn’t helping. And yes, we have massive service-delivery problems. But things are moving forward, slowly. One disgruntled former activist doesn’t change that fact.

A lot of black South Africans feel as if the government has let them down by not delivering on their promises. But I also think the government is only beginning to realise that it’s a very long walk to economic prosperity. Some things will take quite a long time to fix. These “some things were better under apartheid” blacks are simply venting their frustrations at what they perceive to be an unjustifiably slow pace of development.

I can’t wait till the World Cup is over so these Africa correspondents can turn their attention back to Sudan and whatever it is that the Daily Mail normally concerns itself it. In fact I can’t wait till South Africa gets out of the world’s spotlight and we can be a normal country, like any other, and not burdened down by the thoroughly unreasonable expectations of the West.