Changes and challenges: The legacy of South Africa′s apartheid era | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 01.02.2010
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Changes and challenges: The legacy of South Africa's apartheid era

On February 2, 1990, South African President, FW de Klerk, announced reforms that would lead to the end of white minority rule. Nine days later, Nelson Mandela was released from prison after being jailed for 27 years.

Image of Nelson Mandela after his release on February 11, 1990

The release of Nelson Mandela marked a change in the country's direction

South Africa's President Frederik Willem de Klerk addressed parliament on February 2, 1990, calling for reforms that would end apartheid. Another momentous historical occasion preceded it and may have served as an inspiration: the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989.

Dr. Stefan Mair, Senior Fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, told Deutsche Welle that the end of the cold war had a significant influence on apartheid, "It reduced the support South Africa certainly had from some Western countries. It also reduced the legitimacy of one of its most important arguments - that it was the most pivotal state for fighting communism in southern Africa."

Image of South African President Frederik Willem de Klerk and Nelson Mandela

President FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993

For most of the 1970s and 1980s, southern Africa was dominated by socialist countries (Angola, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Mozambique), prompting South Africa to argue that it was fighting communism in the region. The South African Communist Party (SACP) was banned in 1950, and the African National Congress (ANC) was banned in 1960 following the Sharpeville Massacre in which 69 demonstrators were shot dead.

"East Germany was a longstanding supporter of the ANC and indeed one of its most important supporters," Mair said. West Germany and other Western nations, with the exception of the Nordic countries, were ambivalent about their positions because of business interests in South Africa: Rheinmetall AG, Daimler, Anglo American, Barclays Bank and IBM continued to do business in South Africa during the apartheid era.

Martin Meredith, leading historian and author of "The state of Africa: a history of 50 years of independence" and "In the name of Apartheid: South Africa's new era," told Deutsche Welle that "the end of the Cold War eliminated effectively the threat that they thought they faced from the communist bloc, and therefore made them more willing to go down the road of reform."

The demise of communism played a significant role in the political reform that led up to the first multi-racial elections in April 1994 in which blacks voted for the first time, and Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa.

White flight and African immigrants alter the Rainbow Nation

Image of a billboard promoting Robert Mugabe in the last elections in Zimbabwe

Political instability in Zimbabwe has had a significant effect on South Africa

In the 15 years following the 1994 elections, "as many as three quarters of a million of whites left South Africa and that shows in just about every sector," said Meredith.

Mair agreed that white flight has had an effect on the economy because the majority of those who have left "are the most able and skilful." In addition to the emigration of whites, South Africa has faced significant immigration from other African countries - especially Zimbabwe.

"The catastrophic collapse of Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe's rule has meant that perhaps three or four million people from Zimbabwe have flooded into South Africa, desperate for survival, and that has obviously created huge tensions on the ground amongst various local communities. And this had led to outbreaks of xenophobia, which has included some fairly nasty violence," said Meredith.

Mair attributes the tension between locals and immigrants from other parts of Africa to the high unemployment rate among blacks who have to compete with often better-educated immigrants.

Insufficient economic progress and AIDS plague South Africa

Image of Greenpoint Stadium in South Africa

South Africa will host the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

In spite of its many problems, the South African economy has been growing at an estimated 5 percent of GDP (with the exception of 2009), and the country is set to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Still, the majority of blacks remain poor and are largely dissatisfied with the progress because they expected more.

According to Mair, "there are three main areas in which the government needs to make some progress in the next years -education, crime, and health."

"South Africa suffers from one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world and has lost many years under the Thabo Mbeki government in fighting HIV/AIDS, there is some progress there, but South Africa needs to move faster on this," he added.

For Meredith, it is xenophobia that poses a bigger problem for South Africa: "It creates a sort of dangerous undercurrent, which can be exploited by criminal elements and various other kinds of political players," he said.

Author: Chiponda Chimbelu
Editor: Rob Mudge

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