South Africa celebrates decade of democracy

On the eve of South Africa’s April 14 elections and the 10th anniversary of the end of apartheid on April 27, the African National Congress (ANC) government and its allies are evaluating the past decade and preparing for the challenges ahead.

In introducing the ANC’s election manifesto, South African President Thabo Mbeki cited achievements including the enshrining of democracy and equality in the constitution; provision of water, electricity, housing, health care and education to millions; and a more productive economy.

Over 95 percent of children are enrolled in primary schools, the manifesto said, while social grants have been greatly increased. Six million families now live in subsidized new housing, over 70 percent of households have electricity and 80 percent have clean running water. The health system provides primary care and special programs to fight TB, HIV and AIDS, malaria and other chronic diseases.

Despite constitutional guarantees, however, the ANC said discrimination and abuses continue, and many families still do not have a sustainable livelihood. Though 2 million new jobs have been created since 1995, the number of job seekers has soared while many workers have been hurt by outsourcing and “casualization.” The quality of services and infrastructure must be improved, while many women and youth face special problems of poverty and unemployment.

The ANC’s partners in the Tripartite Alliance that defeated apartheid – the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) – have both campaigned vigorously for an ANC sweep in the elections, emphasizing that strengthening the public sector is essential for creating jobs, fighting poverty, and improving education, health care, water, sanitation, housing and social grants.

The SACP pointed to the ANC’s plan to spend 1 billion rand ($160 million) on infrastructure and to create 1 million new jobs through public works, with emphasis on labor-intensive projects that mean good jobs.

The SACP also emphasized the government’s pledge to redistribute one-third of agricultural land in the next 10 years. It noted that farming is dominated by a few thousand capitalist companies while millions of poor South Africans urgently need land for basic family farming.

“Since COSATU was founded almost 20 years ago, we have understood that our struggles to improve our wages and conditions of employment are intertwined with the political struggles to end apartheid and ensure transformation benefits the poor more than just the rich,” the labor federation said. “That is why COSATU has always worked with organizations that are biased towards the workers and the poor. Our research shows that ... only the ANC has the capacity and the principles to support this approach.”

Meanwhile, in “South Africa: Special Report on a Decade of Democracy,” the United Nations Integrated Regional Information Networks called the country “a major economic and political actor on the African continent.” The report noted South Africa’s role, together with Brazil and India, in establishing the G-20 group that upheld the interests of the developing countries at the World Trade Organization summit in Cancun last fall.

The author can be reached at mbechtel@pww.org.