UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!



The African National Congress (ANC) led the opposition to apartheid and many top ANC leaders, such as Nelson MANDELA, spent decades in South Africa's prisons. Internal protests and insurgency, as well as boycotts by some Western nations and institutions, led to the regime's eventual willingness to negotiate a peaceful transition to majority rule. The first multi-racial elections in 1994 brought an end to apartheid and ushered in majority rule under an ANC-led government.

South Africa since then has struggled to address apartheid-era imbalances in decent housing, education, and health care. ANC infighting, which has grown in recent years, came to a head in September 2008 when President Thabo MBEKI resigned, and Kgalema MOTLANTHE, the party's General-Secretary, succeeded him as interim president. Jacob ZUMA became president after the ANC won general elections in April 2009. The Congress of South African Trade Unions or COSATU [Zwelinzima VAVI, general secretary] and South African Communist Party or SACP [Blade NZIMANDE, general secretary] are in a formal alliance with the ANC.

Since the arrival of seafaring European powers in the fifteenth century, South Africa has never been isolated in a strategic sense. The Cape of Good Hope initially served as a reprovisioning depot for Portuguese, English, and Dutch traders on their way to and from the Orient. After the mid-seventeenth century, southern Africa attracted Dutch and French Huguenot traders and settlers, whose troops engaged in a series of wars with indigenous Africans. In the late eighteenth century, the region was caught up in the Napoleonic wars and passed to British imperial control. An influx of Indian laborers and traders in the nineteenth century added an Asian dimension to South Africa's increasingly complex multicultural society. During the twentieth century, South Africa fought on the side of the victorious allies in the two world wars and in the Korean War; after that, it was caught up in the global strategic contest between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Despite the strong international presence over several centuries, South Africa's strategic position has been peripheral rather than central. World powers have sought access to, or control of, its remote subcontinental location and its mineral resources as a means of furthering their own global or imperial designs. Their arrivals and departures in southern Africa paralleled their countries' rise and fall in the international political and economic hierarchy.

After World War II, international interest in South Africa centered on its mineral wealth and its location along southern trade routes and lines of communication between the Eastern and the Western hemispheres. South Africa's potential international importance was nonetheless limited because domestic conditions, specifically its apartheid policies, made it the object of international scorn. Its diplomatic isolation was compounded by international embargoes and by a wide range of Western economic sanctions during the 1980s. Paradoxically, this nation with a long history of trade, with a strategic location, with overwhelming military and economic power in the region, with strong cultural roots on three continents, and with hard-earned international stature, became a pariah. Then as East-West and United States-Soviet tensions eased, southern African regional conflicts ended and domestic political reforms reduced Pretoria's isolation. In the early 1990s, South Africans negotiated a peaceful end to apartheid and began to build new ties to the region and to the rest of the international community.

South Africa is rapidly emerging as a regional leader on the continent and is developing political, economic, and cultural ties around the world. The country's first democratically elected government, which assumed power in 1994, has achieved recognition as being capable of influencing the region. However, the country continues to struggle with the legacy of apartheid and the challenge of fully developing its social, economic, and military power. But South Africa can project regional power and could take the lead for security in southern Africa. Economically, it embraces globalization; politically, it is nonaligned and promotes African nationalism. This promotes Africans helping Africans, which influences the security strategies for the region.

South Africa has the largest number of HIV-infected citizens in the world and HIV/AIDS is the country's leading cause of death. South Africa has a generalized, mature HIV epidemic. South Africa has one of the highest rates of HIV prevalence in the world, with more than 5 million HIV-infected individuals. Overall, 11.8% of the population is infected. The prevalence rate among 15-49 year olds is 18.1%, and in parts of the country more than 35% of women of childbearing age are infected. About 1,000 new infections occur each day, and approximately 350,000 AIDS-related deaths occur annually. There are approximately 3.8 million children who have lost one or both parents, and 1.6 million children were expected to have been orphaned by AIDS by 2008. An estimated 530,000 new infections occur annually. In 2006, 350,000 adults and children died from AIDS; an estimated 1.8 million deaths have occurred since the start of the epidemic; and 71 percent of all deaths in 15 to 41-year-olds are due to AIDS.

The marked rise in TB and HIV co-infection (with 50% co-infection rates) adds significantly to mortality in the country. South Africa has 0.7% of the world’s population, 17% of the global HIV epidemic, and 28% of global HIV and TB co-infected people. It was expected that the epidemic could cost South Africa as much as 17% in GDP growth by 2010, with the extraction industries, education, and health among the sectors that would be severely affected. A 2007-2011 national strategic plan provides the structure for a comprehensive response to HIV and AIDS, including a national rollout of antiretroviral therapy. Overall, as of 2012 only 30% of those who need it were on antiretroviral therapy.

At the beginning of 2000 Thabo Mbeki sent a letter to world leaders expressing his doubt that HIV was the exclusive cause of AIDS and arguing for a consideration of socioeconomic causes. He subsequently invited scientists who shared his view to sit with orthodox experts on AIDS on a presidential panel to advise him on appropriate responses to the epidemic in South Africa. Until April 2002, when Mbeki formally distanced himself from the AIDS “dissidents,” the international scientific community's interest in South African policies on AIDS was almost exclusively focused on the polemic raised by the president. His statements questioning the AIDS statistics, on poverty as a cause of immune deficiency, and on the dangers of antiretrovirals, together with government stalling on the roll out of nevirapine to prevent transmission of HIV from pregnant mothers to their babies, dominated the debate.

Thabo Mbeki's refusal to acknowledge the viral cause of AIDS and the usefulness of antiretroviral drugs in treating the disease caused the premature deaths of more than 330 000 people between 2000–2005, according to modelling by Harvard researchers (Acquir Immune Defic Syndr 2008;49:410-5). The study also estimates 35 000 babies were born with HIV as a consequence of Mbeki's policies, which promoted the use of alternative remedies such as lemon juice, beetroot and garlic.

The July 2002 Constitutional Court judgment ordering the government to make nevirapine universally available to pregnant women infected with HIV, followed in October by a cabinet statement supporting wider access to antiretrovirals, may have ushered in a new era. On 29 October 2009, President Jacob Zuma delivered his annual address to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) in which he acknowledged that South Africa was not winning the war against HIV/AIDS and that extraordinary measures were needed to combat the disease. By 2011 the government wants a 50 percent drop in the rate of new infections and the extension of the antiretroviral program to 80 percent of those who need it. Zuma's speech is seen as a welcome change from President Thabo Mbeki's AIDS denialism.

According to Statistics South Africa’s (Stats SA) Mid-Year Population Estimates, 2011, released in July 2011, there were 50,59 million people living in South Africa, of whom nearly one third (31,3%) of the population was aged younger than 15 years. The overall population pyramid is relatively typical of developing countries with a significant portion of the population under 15 and a significant majority under 35. The “black population pyramid” manifests a sharp decline from the 30-34 band to the 35-39 band, almost certainly reflecting HIV/AIDS deaths. The growth rate is clearly already slowing, but a surge of youth, many to poor families with limited prospects for good education is still working its way through the population ranks.

The CIA report Long-Term Global Demographic Trends: Reshaping the Geopolitical Landscape (July 2001) stated that "Sub-Saharan Africa will have the worst youth bulges through 2020. ... The failure to adequately integrate large youth populations in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa is likely to perpetuate the cycle of political instability, ethnic wars, revolutions, and antiregime activities that already affect many of these countries. .. Large youth populations may challenge some governments’ long-held political and foreign policy agendas, possibly leading to shifts in the relationship of some countries with the United States."

The official unemployment rate, once nearly 25 percent, has begun to decline and is significantly higher among black South Africans than among whites. Income inequality between haves and have-nots remains one of the highest rates in the world. Poverty is widespread. Fifty-six percent of black South Africans, but only four percent of whites, live in poverty. The tense debate at the party's December 2007 ANC National Conference and defeat of incumbent Mbeki reflected the growing impatience with the pace of socio-economic change. It was also in large part a reflection of the growing restlessness and dissatisfaction with the ANC's inability to deliver a better life for everyone.

There is a serious generation gap in South Africa. Widespread grievances which remain unresolved include the frustrations of poverty, unemployment, housing shortages, and poor public services. At present, men in their late 60s and early 70s occupy the key positions of power, while political formations such as the African National Congress and the South African Communist have youth leagues to channel the ambitions of the younger generation. Most of the children of the 1976 Uprising generation are in their tqwenties, and have no direct memory of Apartheid, and certainly no shared memory of struggle against Apartheid. There is naturally a differentiation of opinion between youth and elders. But among the youth there is a sense of disillusionment and decline, explaining in part South Africa's extraordinarily high rates of violence and crime.

Many leaders in the generation that was subjected to "Bantu education" went into exile, and saw the world. The political consequences of the age gap was seen when the African National Congress (ANC) announced on 03 December 2009 that it would create a party branch for veterans of the movement known as the ANC Veteran's League (ANCVL) with voting rights within the party in line with what the ANC Women's League (ANCWL) and the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) have. Some argued that it will have difficulty getting its views heard in the face of the more vociferous like the ANCYL, given the Youth League's "culture of disrespecting the elders" that would limit space for the veterans to exert their influence. The ruling party has failed to mentor its young leaders so they can learn tradition - the ANC is becoming the "dumb and dumber."

Two decades after the end of Apartheid, the hegemonic African National Congress (ANC) has lost its moral authority. Many South Africans assume that the ruling party is rife with corruption and seeks to protect its own when they are faced with the law. The perception of the ANC is a party that harbors a culture of corruption that protects ANC transgessors from legal consequences. The ANC from the post-World War II generation onward was steeped in an intellectual tradition formed under the values of debate, policy position papers, critical reflection, and a broader understanding of trends such as pan-Africanism, Black Consciousness, communist theory, and the palaver. the ANC's "best and brightest" left parliamentary seats and their daily roles in the movement for business or civil society interests during the 1990s. Even as the ANC is still the standard-bearer of intellectual thought for liberation movements, the party has struggled in recent years to maintain many of its traditions -- notably those of discussion and debate that appear to have fallen away under the administration of former President Thabo Mbeki.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and South African Communist Party (SACP), formally members of the ANC-led tripartite alliance, have pressured the ANC to embrace more leftist or perhaps even populist positions in the interests of the poor and the working class. ANC Youth League President Julius Malema was expelled from the ANC after defying instructions from party leaders to tone down his controversial rhetoric.

Strikes on a hilltop next to Lonmin’s Platinum mine in Marikana turned violent, leading to a deadly 16 August 2012 police shooting that left 34 workers dead. The powerful, established National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), wanted an 8.6 percent pay raise, about a double the current inflation rate of 4.2 per cent, as well as a 1,000 rand ($137.22) monthly housing allowance. But the militant Association of Mineworkers and Construction Unions (AMCU) refused to sign a peace accord that would pave a path for negotiations between unions, workers and mining giant Lonmin. The AMCU was holding out for Lonmin to make an offer toward workers' demands of a three-fold salary raise to $1,500 a month. The head of COSATU, which counts some 2 million members, has said that the movement is facing “a huge threat to workers’ unity” and named AMCU as one of the culprits.

The ANC leadership sought to censure firebrand ex-youth leader Julius Malema after he challenged them by delivering a series of fiery speeches near the troubled Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana. The mine was the site of a six-week violent wildcat strike that crippled industry and shocked the nation. Malema encouraged the wave of mining strikes in the country and told miners that they had been let down by President Jacob Zuma and his ruling party.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 28-11-2016 19:40:17 ZULU