Tuesday, December 5, 2017

End of Apartheid in South Africa?

This is depressing.

At NYT, "End of Apartheid in South Africa? Not in Economic Terms":

CROSSROADS, South Africa — The end of apartheid was supposed to be a beginning.

Judith Sikade envisioned escaping the townships, where the government had forced black people to live. She aimed to find work in Cape Town, trading her shack for a home with modern conveniences.

More than two decades later, Ms. Sikade, 69, lives on the garbage-strewn dirt of Crossroads township, where thousands of black families have used splintered boards and metal sheets to construct airless hovels for lack of anywhere else to live.

“I’ve gone from a shack to a shack,” Ms. Sikade says. “I’m fighting for everything I have. You still are living in apartheid.”

In the history of civil rights, South Africa lays claim to a momentous achievement — the demolition of apartheid and the construction of a democracy. But for black South Africans, who account for three-fourths of this nation of roughly 55 million people, political liberation has yet to translate into broad material gains.

Apartheid has essentially persisted in economic form.

This reality is palpable as turmoil now seizes South Africa. Enraged protesters demand the ouster of President Jacob Zuma over disclosures of corruption so high-level that it is often described as state capture, with private interests having effectively purchased the power to divert state resources in their direction. The economy keels in recession, worsening an official unemployment rate reaching nearly 28 percent.

Underlying the anger are deep-seated disparities in wealth. In the aftermath of apartheid, the government left land and other assets largely in the hands of a predominantly white elite. The government’s resistance to large-scale land transfers reflected its reluctance to rattle international investors.

Today, millions of black South Africans are chronically short of capital needed to start businesses. Less than half of the working age population is officially employed.

The governing party, the African National Congress, built empires of new housing for black South Africans, but concentrated it in the townships, reinforcing the geographic strictures of apartheid. Large swaths of the black population remain hunkered down in squalor, on land they do not legally own. Those with jobs often endure commutes of an hour or more on private minibuses that extract outsize slices of their paychecks.

“We never dismantled apartheid,” said Ayabonga Cawe, a former economist for Oxfam, the international anti-poverty organization, and now the host of a radio show that explores national affairs. “The patterns of enrichment and impoverishment are still the same.”

South Africa began the post-apartheid era facing challenges as formidable as those confronted by Europe at the end of World War II, or the Soviet Union after communism. It had to re-engineer an economy dominated by mining and expand into modern pursuits like tourism and agriculture, while overcoming a legacy of colonial exploitation, racial oppression and global isolation — the results of decades of international sanctions.

“It’s a very deep structural problem,” said Ian Goldin, who served as a senior economic adviser to Nelson Mandela when he was president of South Africa, and is now a professor of globalization at the University of Oxford in Britain. “The Russians had capitalism before the Soviet Union. Africans lost their rights 300 years ago. It’s a much longer period of subjugation.”

Even so, from 1998 to 2008, the economy expanded by roughly 3.5 percent a year, doubling the size of the black middle class. The government built millions of homes, extended the reach of clean water and electricity, and handed out cash grants to millions of poor people.

But the global financial crisis of 2008 ravaged South Africa, destroying demand for the mineral deposits at the center of its economy. It wiped out half of the roughly two million new jobs that had been created in the previous four years.

Today, South Africa is a land of astonishing contrasts.

In the Sea Point neighborhood of Cape Town, a sweep of apartments and restaurants alongside the Atlantic Ocean, women gather on the beach for an evening yoga class — some black, some white, some Asian. Children of multiple races scamper through a playground, a scene unthinkable during apartheid.

High above the city, atop the ridgeline at Table Mountain, American exchange students recount a sky diving experience while pointing smartphones at the orange sun arcing toward the ocean.

To the east, the parched land vibrates in the golden light. Judith Sikade’s tin roof is down there somewhere, reflecting the last rays of the sun.

In her community, people are cooking over coal fires and breathing in fumes. Children run barefoot on paths littered with broken glass. Grown-ups exchange word of the latest armed robbery.

All the while, they keep an eye out for the police, who frequently descend bearing sledgehammers to tear down the shacks, given that they sit on private land.

“Where’s the freedom?” Ms. Sikade said, anger rising in her voice. “Where are the changes?”
Still more.