The year 2022 marks 28 years since eligible South Africans participated in the first democratic elections. When the African National Congress (ANC) came into power in 1994, there was a widespread euphoria held by many citizens across the country, particularly the black majority, who hoped that a new government would bring about a change for the better.
Over years, however, that euphoria has gradually given way to waves of disillusionment, anger and mistrust in the ANC government. Almost three decades into democracy there is a stark divergence between the South Africa that was envisaged in 1994 and the realities of 2022. Currently, many black South Africans are fast losing hope and feeling despondent regarding the future of the country.
It is safe to say that the ‘rainbow nation’ as coined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu is no more, as we find ourselves in a South Africa that is beset by racial tensions, class inequality, corruption, lawlessness, and insecurity. Things have deteriorated to a state that we are having debates on whether South Africa is exhibiting signs of a failed state or not.
The celebrations around the 27th of April, which were usually jovial and triumphant, were quite muted this year. What is seemingly evident is that many South Africans simply have nothing to be jovial or triumphant about. The South Africa of today is one that ranks highly amongst the most unequal countries in the world, coming first among 164 countries according to the World Bank. According to a 2020 report by Oxfam South Africa 10% of South Africans own 90% of the wealth in the country. In 2020, the World Bank noted that approximately 55.5% (30.3 million people) of the population of South Africa was living under the national upper poverty line (ZAR992 per month) while a total of 13.8 million people (25%) were experiencing food poverty.
Unfortunately, black people and females in particular have borne the brunt of most of the failures of the democratic government to address the socio-economic challenges facing the country. Today almost half of the adult population in the country is without jobs, with over 60% of its youth unable to find any form of formal employment. The quarter 4 Quarterly Labour Force Survey of 2021 showed that the rate of unemployment among women was 36,8% and the unemployment rate among black African women was 41,0% during this period compared to 8,2% among white women, 22,4% among Indian/Asian women and 29,9% among coloured women. In terms of managerial positions, 66,9% are occupied by men compared to 33,1% of women.
Most black people still find themselves landless due to government’s failure to implement land reform programmes and ensure that the injustices of the past are corrected. A 2017 land audit by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform revealed that white people own 26 663 144 ha or 72% of the total 37 031 283 ha farms and agricultural holdings by individual landowners; followed by Coloured at 5 371 383 ha or 15%, Indians at 2 031 790 ha or 5%, Africans at 1 314 873 ha or 4%, other at 1 271 562 ha or 3%, and co-owners at 425 537 ha or 1%. In the same breath, the distribution of economic resources is based on racial lines, with white people enjoying the lion’s share.
The lack of economic and land transformation by the government over the past 2 decades is largely responsible for the discontent felt by most black South Africans. The emergence of groups such as Operation Dudula is also largely due to the failure by the government to effectively address pertinent socio-economic challenges in South Africa. ‘Operation Dudula’ has stated that its emergence is largely due to lack of action and leadership from law authorities on the proliferation of illegal foreign nationals in the country. Though government has promised to address the issue illegal immigration, there is a general mistrust that it will come up with meaningful interventions.
Many citizens across the country hold a deep mistrust of government. In the context of functional democracy, not only does this mistrust place social cohesion under tremendous threat, but it also challenges the very same liberal principles of freedom which bonds our entire democratic system together. Over time, as government has failed to meet the most basic needs of poor black South Africa’s and revelations of rampant corruption have become exposed, this mistrust has become ever more vivid.
Most recently this loss of trust saw President Cyril Ramaphosa and KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala having to assure the public that funds meant for KZN and the Eastern Cape following the recent floods will not be looted and oversight measures will be put in place. This follows the 2020 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) scandal where billions of COVID-19 funds were looted, with senior politicians like former Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize and a myriad of senior bureaucrats implicated. Despite President Ramaphosa promising that people will find themselves behind bars for stealing COVID-19 relief funds, no one has found themselves in orange overalls thus far.
The cost of corruption comes at the expense of development and service delivery, as it misdirects fewer scarce resources from their intended purpose. There seems to be lack of accountability and consequences from the ANC and politicians found to have had a hand in corrupt activities. The task ahead for the ANC led government is to restore the lost trust and confidence in government and law enforcement institutions by ensuring that they are more accountable and there is a concerted effort to eradicate corruption.
For as long as the majority of South Africans are stuck in poverty and unable to access economic opportunities, the 27th of April will mean nothing to them. For political freedom to be meaningful to the majority of South Africans, government needs to implement an economic reform programme to address the economic ownership imbalance that is currently in favour of the minority.
Written by Calvin Matlou