Democratic South Africa emerged out of a period of unprecedented political violence.
Leaders who opted for talks over war helped ensure a smooth transition from apartheid, without horrors of a full-scale civil war.
The 25 year-democratic journey has been a roller-coaster ride for the country.
The quality of life for millions of previously disadvantaged South Africans has greatly improved; the country has at least 11 research breakthroughs in science and medicine; it is the Rugby World Cup holder; South Africa successfully hosted the 2010 Fifa Soccer World and run one of the most ambitious HIV/Aids treatment programmes in the world.
But, its highs are just as dazzling as its lows with some of the country’s citizens disillusioned by the state of democracy.
Political patronage, broken promises, the high rate of unemployment and an ailing economy has some reminiscing about the dark days of apartheid.
Marking the end of the SABC’s 2019 elections project, the Democracy Gauge team asked South Africans whether they are hopeful about the country’s future
Listen to some of their responses below:
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This week in 1994: Democracy 25
11 December 2019, 2:06 PM
As we wrap up our This week in 1994 series we look at the governing party’ national conference, which happened eight months after the African National Congress (ANC) realised its dream of a non-racial and democratic South Africa.
The conference was held in Bloemfontein, re-named Mangaung, in the Free State, from the 17th to the 22nd of December 1994.
It is the city where the party was established in 1912.
ANC Veteran and Head of the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection Joel Netshitenzhe says the conference’s mood was that of celebration and euphoria.
This was a striking difference from the ANC’s previous conferences, which had been marked by tension and heated exchanges over strategic decisions.
Netshitenzhe says beyond the exhilaration, however, there were concerns over the mammoth task that lay ahead.
“The apprehension deriving from that the ANC recognised the responsibility that it had to transform society; to ensure that those ideals for which generations had struggled are realised.”
Despite the hurdles before them, South Africa’s new political leaders hit the ground running.
Using the ANC’s ready to govern document and election manifesto – Netshitenzhe says the governing party ensured that the new Government of National Unity implements the party’s Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), which ensured equal access to education, housing for the poor and free healthcare for pregnant mothers and children, among other milestones.
Mandela’s political report
In his ANC political report, then party President Nelson Mandela reflected on the party’s strategic decision to form the Government of National Unity, hailing it as a move in the right direction.
He urged party officials to lead with humility, bearing in mind that they are servants of the people.
The ANC’s strategic document: From Resistance to Reconstruction and Development was also discussed at the congress.
It contained the organisation’s three-year plan to transform South Africa.
Mandela was re-elected unopposed as party president; Thabo Mbeki as his deputy; Makhenkesi Stofile was appointed the party’s Treasurer-General; Jacob Zuma the National Chairperson; current President Cyril Ramaphosa as Secretary-General and Cherly Carolus his deputy.
On cadre deployment, Netshitenzhe says the question of who remains at the party’s headquarters, Luthuli House, to ensure that the organisation remains strong was Madiba’s concern.
He says this is one thorny issue that continues to haunt the governing ANC.
Other controversial matters that Netshitenzhe believes the party needs to resolve are the role of the branches and the appointment of leaders.
This week in 1994: Democracy 25
4 December 2019, 6:27 PM
This week we focus on the history of the Freedom Front Plus (FF+), a minority Afrikaner party that shook South Africa’s political landscape during the May 8 elections.
The party, initially the Freedom Front, was established just weeks before South Africa’s historic 1994 polls.
General Constand Viljoen and former Konserwatiewe Party (Conservative Party) leader Ferdi Hartzenberg were its founders.
Hartzenberg joined forces with Viljoen after he left the Afrikaner Volksfront (AVF) amidst disagreements over the seizing of an Afrikaner state (Volkstaat) through civil disobedience and resistance.
While he was initially meant to lead the revolution, the former chief of the apartheid army said he had changed his mind due to concern over the repercussions of war.
He dropped the bombshell on his Afrikaner Volksfront comrades following talks with the National Party (NP) and the African National Congress (ANC).
Viljoen’s party won 2.2% of the votes, securing nine seats in the National Legislature.
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The Freedom Front Plus also clinched a deal with the ANC about the formation of a Volkstaat Council, which was established after the elections.
It was dissolved in 1999 after finalising its report.
The Council probed the idea of the creation of a White Afrikaner homeland.
Viljoen led the FF+ until 2001 and was succeeded by Pieter Mulder.
After years of dismal performance in the country’s polls, the party gained significant support in this year’s elections from former Democratic Alliance (DA) supporters who are said to be worried about their culture and identity. They believe their heritage is under threat.
The Freedom Front Plus garnered 2.38% of the votes, bringing its number of Members of Parliament to 10.
It is now the fifth biggest party in Parliament and is led by Pieter Groenewald.
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Blow to Afrikaner’s self-determination plans
Viljoen’s decision to contest the 1994 elections was the beginning of an end for the AVF, an umbrella body for at least 21 Afrikaner self-determination organisations.
Another major blow to their plans came five days after Viljoen’s about-turn when the Afrikaner’s effort to bolster Bophuthatswana leader Lucas Mangope’s bid to retain power failed.
Viljoen, former apartheid Chief of Military Intelligence General Koos Bischoff and the ex Head of the Criminal Investigation Department General Kobus Visser were some of the AVF’s founding members.
Hartzenberg was the chairperson of the AVF’s executive council when he broke ranks.
The group’s formation had been preceded by the inauguration of the Volksverteenwoordigende Rand, which the coalition referred to as the Parliament of the nation.
The authority was to counter the work of the Transitional Executive Council (TEC) tasked with creating a climate for free political activity ahead of the April elections.
The unbanning of anti-apartheid movements and Nelson Mandela’s release from jail, the National Party’s decision to enter into transition negotiations with the ANC and the 1992 referendum, which ushered in a new Constitution that paved the way for the creation of a non-racial society raised their ire of the right-wing Afrikaners.
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According to Volkstaat.net, the right-wing coalition was preparing an army that would fight for town councils in the west of Gauteng (then Transvaal) that were under the Conservative Party’s control prior to the 1994 elections.
This included seizing their assets and finances.
The plan was, however, thwarted by the National Party government who declared a State of Emergency in April, ahead of the non-racial polls.
The Afrikaner right-wing group was in alliance with conservative Black leaders, including those of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), which decided to participate in the 1994 landmark elections at the last minute.
The AVF’s executive council was dissolved in 1996.
No silver bullets to SA’s education challenges: Expert
3 December 2019, 7:43 PM
South Africa’s education system has had profound changes since the advent of democracy.
The apartheid system had 18 education departments, the distribution of resources was gravely skewed and the curriculum was racist and sexist.
25 years on, there’s only one national system and nine provincial education departments.
The curriculum speaks to issues of social justice, there are Early Childhood Development programmes, corporal punishment is banned and efforts to ensure equitable distribution of resources continue.
Despite these milestones, however, the country’s children trail behind comparable countries in literacy and numeracy.
For example, out of the 50 countries surveyed in the 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, South Africa came last.
78% of the country’s grade 4 learners can’t read for meaning, which is a stark contrast from other upper middle-income countries.
While few students complete a three-year degree in the allotted time, 40% of first graders ultimately drop out rather than complete the 12th Grade.
Our producer Lindiwe Mabena spoke to the Director of Centre for Education Rights and Transformation, Professor Salim Vally, on causes of poor learner outcomes in the country.
Watch full report below:
This week in 1994: Democracy 25
27 November 2019, 4:37 PM
This week we reflect on democratic South Africa’s bold step to become a founding member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), thus opening up the young democracy’s economy to international prices and competition.
Pretoria ratified the Marrakesh Agreement on the 2nd of December 1994 months after other member-states had sealed the deal in Morocco.
The Agreement created a new global framework for liberalising trade, protecting intellectual property rights and easing trade tensions through a new dispute resolution mechanism.
It was hailed as one of the largest treaties ever signed and marked the end of the Uruguay Round of talks, leading to the establishment of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in January 1995.
The milestone is said to have been the biggest reform of international trade since after the Second World War.
The WTO replaced General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) signed in 1947, which apartheid South Africa had been part of.
The WTO agreements provide the legal ground-rules for international commerce.
The Mandela administration saw the decision to join the global international organisation as a necessary part of integrating post-apartheid South Africa into the global economy.
While critics have denounced the WTO as a global institution driving neo-liberal economic globalisation, some scholars believe South Africa’s participation in it doesn’t only carry significant implications for the country, but also the rest of the continent.
They also view it as a powerful platform for both the projection of the country’s foreign policy and its international status.