At Nelson Mandela’s memorial service, President Jacob Zuma made the point that “he (Mandela) told us that the promises of democracy would not be met overnight … and we all agreed with him … ”. Was this a co-option of Madiba somehow to justify the slow pace of service delivery?

While it is true that apartheid’s legacies remain manifested in many aspects of our lives, there are many choices that have been made and things that have occurred in a post-apartheid society which we would not have expected.

This is an A to Z list of what we cannot — legitimately or expediently — simply blame on apartheid.

A is for the ARMS DEAL that would consume in excess of R50 billion on military hardware when we expected our new government to declare real war on poverty, on disease and on unemployment. The stench of corruption associated with this deal continues to haunt the ANC.

B is for BLACK ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT allegedly designed to distribute wealth more equitably in post-apartheid South Africa, but which entrenched an economic system that benefits a few and serves as a political protection racket, paying off senior individuals within the ruling alliance in exchange for continuing business as before.

C is for CRIME in general and CORRUPTION in particular. Corruption Watch reports that corrupt activities in 2013 alone amounted to more than R300 billion, with South African falling three places on the Corruption Perceptions Index since 2012. Theft of public resources has become blatant, endemic and reaching to the highest levels, with “struggle credentials” not holding those responsible to a higher moral accountability, but rather serving as a “get-out-of-jail-free” card.

D is for DEMOCRACY. We deliver well on “free and fair elections”, but we do not know who funds our political parties and thus whose real interests are served after the masses have been co-opted with empty promises, government grants and food parcels as voting fodder. Executive interference in parliament (eg the suspension of Scopa’s investigation into the arms deal), in independent institutions created to defend our democracy eg 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 arms deal free of corruption, have undermined the credibility of Parliament and the effectiveness of parliamentary democracy in serving the country’s — rather than the ruling party’s — interests.

E is for EDUCATION. The poor literacy and numeracy skills of many who matriculate from schools catering for black African learners in particular, the non-delivery of textbooks and the absence of libraries in 95% of our schools despite 6% of our GDP being allocated to education, confirm the National Planning Commission’s report that “the quality of education for poor black South Africans is sub-standard”, and is a very serious indictment of our post-apartheid rulers.

F is for the FACTIONALISM that is tearing apart the ruling alliance impacting heavily on the delivery of services as the winning faction purges civil servants deemed loyal to an opposing faction. Comrade-versus-comrade battles to access the levers of state power and the public purse have resulted in leaders of different factions employing bodyguards for fear of physical harm. What has become of us?

G is for GUPTA. The scandalous landing of a private plane carrying wedding guests for the Gupta family at Waterkloof Air Force Base, and the alleged political influence of this wealthy family that has ingratiated itself into the ruling elite through a variety of business relationships, reflects the extent to which the president in particular has been compromised, thereby damaging the integrity and image of the country in the process.

H is for HOUSES. While the ruling party prides itself in the number of houses it has built since 1994, the complete absence of any design aesthetic, the size of these “matchbox” houses, their close proximity to each other, the quality of the building and the absence of green and recreational spaces reflects an apartheid view of black people as sub-human. The vast disparities between the president’s and cabinet ministers’ houses on the one hand and those of the people who elected them on the other, are a national disgrace.

I is for INEQUALITY. Twenty percent of our population earns 70% of the national income (at least half of this group comprises black Africans) while the poorest 40% accounts for no more than 7% of national income. (Elite voices often complain about the relatively small number — meaning themselves — who carry the primary tax burden, but it is this same elite that earns most of the country’s annual income). Change has happened overnight, but only for an elite that is mostly associated with the ruling party, with thousands of “overnight” millionaires in a society that has become one of the most unequal in the world — after the demise of apartheid.

J is for JUSTICE. Or rather, the lack of it. While those with resources can afford lawyers, make bail and put up sophisticated defences, the poor wait — in extreme 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. Politicians have concentrated more on transforming the demographics of the judiciary than on the delivery of justice. Patently, all are not equal before the law, with the wealthy and the politically connected more equal than others.

K is for KILLINGS: There is an average of 40 murders each day — for being a lesbian, a child, a wife, a farmer, a police officer … after apartheid’s brutal deaths-in-detention and the extra-judicial killings of activists, we did not expect the high number of assassinations of corruption whistleblowers, of political opponents, of deaths in police custody (932 in 2011/12) and of protestors in a democratic South Africa.

L is for LAND. 2013 marked the centenary of the Land Act which stripped black African people of land ownership, with 87% of South African land being under white control. While some four million hectares have been transferred to about 250 000 black farmers since 1994, the land reform process has been bogged down by policy, by the lack of support for new entrants, by declining budgets. Meanwhile, a number of ANC leaders and associates have had their worlds changed overnight, and have become proud owners of wine, game and other farms.

M is for MARIKANA. Human Rights Day commemorates the apartheid atrocity of the Sharpeville massacre, obliging us never to repeat it. And yet, 18 years into democracy, 34 protesting miners (half the number of people who lost their lives at Sharpeville) were gunned down by the police. Then it was in defence of white minority privilege, now the massacre by police was in defence of the interests of international capital and its local elite allies.

N is for NKANDLA. Never would we have believed that leaders in the struggle for liberation from apartheid would abuse public funds on this scale, and so brazenly. It is behaviour associated more with the caricature of a dictatorship steeped in large-scale corruption and theft than with a democratic government committed to social justice.

O is for OPPOSITION and how the ruling alliance deals with it. Particularly from Thabo Mbeki’s presidency, increasingly anti-democratic tendencies have emerged within the ruling alliance ranging from smearing opponents as racists, counter-revolutionaries or agents of imperialism, intimidating critics with threats of court action, arresting journalists on spurious grounds, preventing opposition parties from exercising their democratic rights to march (DA) or host gatherings (EFF), and now there’s the Secrecy Bill to suppress criticism, while all the while the SABC has been bludgeoned and co-opted for ruling party propaganda and imaging purposes.

P is for POVERTY. In 1995, 53% of our population lived in poverty ($2 a day or R524 a month at that time), while this percentage declined in 2008 to 48%, only because of government grants — poverty Band-Aids — rather than because of effective, sustainable structural changes.

Q is for the QUACK science of Mbeki and the collective ANC leadership who were directly responsible for the premature deaths of hundreds of thousands of mainly black African South Africans, the transmission of HIV from mothers to babies, and the orphaning of more than one million children because of their refusal to provide life-saving drugs. The ANC presided over a decline in life expectancy from 62 in the dying days of apartheid to 50 at the height of the Aids pandemic in a genocide-by-wilful-omission and in which an average of 1 000 South Africans perished each day, despite cheap life-saving drugs being available. Unforgiveable!

R is for RACISM and the RAINBOW NATION. While the vast majority of South Africans are socially marginalised by poverty, the “rainbow nation” does not exist. At best, we have a “rainbow elite” and a “black cloud majority”. Given the dehumanisation of black people under apartheid, it would be naïve to expect white-against-black racism to have disappeared after 20 years, but some post-1994 phenomena have reinforced this racism and apartheid-era stereotypes eg the deployment of black African people to positions of responsibility when they often did not have the requisite skills, experience and support structures so that when they have failed, racists would attribute it to black stupidity, or the widespread corruption within government that provokes the snide “this is Africa” remarks or violent crime (in which black African people are statistically the primary victims and perpetrators) makes white people retreat into secure, gated communities like micro Group Areas of our apartheid past. Our political discourse is poisoned by superficial, easy race-speak and cry-wolf accusations of racism where, ironically, it is more possible for former leaders of the National Party to be accommodated within the ruling party than it is for the ruling alliance to accept legitimate criticism from some of its former progressive allies in the struggle against the apartheid policies of the National Party. When ANC leaders dismiss NGOs working primarily to improve the lot of the poor simply as entities run by white puppet masters, it confirms the decline of the ANC’s non-racial ethos and increases the alienation of progressives from the ruling party because of its race double-speak.

S is for the SPEAR. Brett Murray’s painting of President Zuma — in a Lenin-like pose and with exposed genitals symbolising power and its potential abuse — generated massive controversy: the artist was demonised as a racist — and the minister of higher education, Blade Nzimande, even called for the work to be destroyed. The prescience of the artwork has now been affirmed by the Nkandla compound, which represents little more than the abuse of the public purse by political leaders. The work shows both the importance of freedom of creative expression and the anti-democratic tendencies of the ruling alliance.

T is for TRANSFORMATION. The moral and political imperatives to transform the demographics of government and public institutions of delivery have, ironically, often stunted substantial transformation as people appointed to strategic positions of power did not have the requisite expertise and/or experience to deliver on their institutional mandates. This is reflected in the 2012 auditor general’s report where only 9 of 278 municipal governments received clean audits. Furthermore, the widespread corruption in government administration shows that appointing black people as part of a transformation agenda does not necessarily result in better, or more empathetic service delivery.

U is for UNEMPLOYMENT that officially stands at around 25% but is probably closer to 35%-40%. Notwithstanding the white noise about affirmative action and equity legislation on white unemployment, it is primarily black people who have lost their jobs and among who unemployment has spiked after the demise of apartheid.

V is for VANITY. Our relatively smooth transition to democracy and Mandela made us the darling of the world. This increased our vanity in relation to the rest of Africa and our perception of ourselves as global players. We expended massive energy and resources on vanity projects like the elite-serving Gautrain and the Fifa World Cup, which has left its legacy of e-tolls, expensive stadiums to maintain, and dented images of corrupt, colluding construction firms, with little of the promised development and employment benefits of these projects being sustained

W is for WOMEN. The emancipation of women from their triple oppression of sex, race and class was one of the key goals of the anti-apartheid struggle. While there is a much higher visibility of women in politics, business and other sectors, women — of all classes and colours — face massive violence within a patriarchal culture. With more than 200 000 women assaulted each year, with a woman killed by an intimate partner on average every eight hours, and with more than 66 000 reported rapes in 2012 (of which only 4 500 resulted in convictions) and with increasing numbers of corrective rapes and killing of black lesbians, post-apartheid South Africa is a fearful place for women. It is among poor black African women that the struggle for emancipation from their triple oppression continues, for it is they who bear the brunt of unemployment, of HIV infection, of poverty and of gender-based violence in our democracy.

X is for XENOPHOBIA. The refrain that people from other parts of Africa are taking local jobs (where this is true, it is an indictment of our educational system and clearly, we have much to learn from other African countries) has resulted in a form of racism — and related violence and murder — that was not anticipated in a democratic South Africa. Neither were Mbeki’s denialism (he attributed the xenophobic violence to basic criminality), nor police arresting suspected illegal immigrants on the basis of their skin colour, and certainly not that ANC leaders would own a privatised “repatriation centre” — Lindela — making profit out of the misery of other Africans!

Y is for YOUTH. More than two-thirds of our population is under 35 with the 15-34 cohort constituting 38% of our national population (with a further 30% under the age of 15). In excess of 70% of unemployed South Africans are under the age of 35. Thousands of homes are run by teenagers because of the loss of their parents through Aids. Teenage pregnancy, alcoholism, drug abuse, HIV infection and suicide are rife among our young people. Little wonder then about the growth of the Economic Freedom Fighters.

Z is for ZIMBABWE. The South African government’s continued suppression of its own report into the 2002 Zimbabwe elections reflects our poor record in supporting human rights internationally when we opposed UN resolutions in support of victims of human-rights abuses in Burma, Belarus, Iran and North Korea, and — as with other hypocritical western democracies — make our commitment to human rights subject to other geo-political and economic interests.


While some of apartheid’s legacies will take time to change, there are some things that have changed “overnight” and these include:

  1. The lives of a minority of individuals connected to the ruling party; some have become obscenely wealthy in a very short space of time, more wealthy than most who were beneficiaries of the apartheid system for a significantly longer period;
  2. The image of the ruling party has changed from one committed to liberation for all to one increasingly associated with corruption and factionalism and with serving an elitist agenda;
  3. The hundreds of thousands of South Africans who lost their jobs after the demise of apartheid and who have been unable to find sustainable work since; and
  4. The hundreds of thousands who expected to live in a better South Africa but whose lives were cut short by government’s denialist approach to the Aids pandemic, by violent crime, in police custody, through political assassination, etc.

The combination of the recent death of Madiba, the values that he stood for and the leadership he provided together with this, the 20th anniversary of the attainment of our democracy, provide the impetus for serious reflection on where we are, and what must be done to alter our current course that has created not a rainbow nation, but a co-existing “rainbow elite” and a “black cloud majority” that is unsustainable and which will be the source of increasing tensions.



Mike van Graan

Mike van Graan is the executive director of the African Arts Institute and is an adviser to Arterial...

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