Post-Apartheid South Africa



This research paper explores whether South Africa is better or worse off 20 years after the fall of legalized racism – Apartheid.


Racial segregation was insidiously weaved throughout the twentieth century. Segregationist policies were seen in the democratic US in the early decades while the world paid little attention. The prevailing threat of the time was the spread of communism, real or imagined, and this dictated much of US foreign policy (US Department of State, 2009). Concurrent to this was the beginning of legalized racism in South Africa in 1948, which is known as Apartheid.  The issue today, 20 years after the end of Apartheid is whether South Africa is better or worse in terms of economic and social gains, and is the subject of this discussion.

Twenty Years of ANC

With the election of Nelson Mandela in 1994, it was believed that the African National Congress would be the bulwark against all the after-effects of Apartheid. There is no question there have been some gains. However, there is a ‘but’ to argue for almost every one of them. For example, South Africa is the most advanced country in Africa (NPR, 2014) having cities that are active in the global economy – but, it ranks 118th of 178 on the Human Development Report (UNDP, 2014). Millions of blacks have been educated and elevated out of poverty – but, there are also millions whose lives have seen no improvement. Violence is rampant and squatter communities continue to grow (NPR, 2014).

Politically, Mandela set a high moral compass for leadership up to his death in December, 2013 – but, corruption and poverty prevail. The Reverend Desmond Tutu recalled when he cast his ballot in the first all-race election in 1994 as a “religious experience, a transfiguration experience, a mountaintop experience” (NPR, 2014, para. 1). Before the 2014 election just six months after Mandela’s passing, Tutu said, "I didn't think there would be a disillusionment so soon. I'm glad that (Nelson Mandela) is dead. I'm glad that most of these people are no longer alive to see this” (para. 2). Tutu himself would not even vote for the ANC in that election, evidence of his own dismay over the leadership’s chronic problems with corruption.

The significant improvements in the standard of living are not matched by high morale. Cynicism is inherent in complaints that only those connected in some way to the ANC get ahead. The president himself, Jacob Zuma, was criticized for upgrading his home to include a swimming pool and amphitheatre spending over $23 million, and he was booed at a memorial service for Mandela even with much of the crowd comprised of members of his party (NPR, 2014). How long the ANC can capitalize on old loyalties is questionable.

Social and Economic Situation Today

The imbalances that were created by white minority rule could not be easily mitigated by the newly democratized South Africa. Education had been limited to manual work, crude in form, and nowhere near what is necessary in critical skills to boost infrastructure. It would take a generation to bridge the gap between the advanced Western state that was a reality for only 5 percent of the population (Global Research, 2012) while the rest languished in abject poverty.

Fast forward to the present socio-economic climate in South Africa at today’s monetary values, which place the national poverty line at $43 per month. Therefore 47 percent of South Africans remain poor, up from 1994’s figure of 45.6 percent (Bhorat, 2013). Worse, the traditional measurement of unemployment in the formal economy is 25.4 percent, which drops to 11 percent when the informal sector is factored in. This indicates that the economy is not stimulating real job growth, with a majority working informally as street vendors, gardeners, and watchers over cars and property (NPR, 2014). This difference is cemented by a score of 0.69 on the Gini coefficient, which marks South Africa as the highest ranked for inequality in the world (Bhorat, 2013).

These statistics do not match the benevolent welfare expenditures aimed at addressing poverty. Over a quarter of all South Africans receive welfare cheques constituting 3 percent of GDP with asset poverty deficits improved. As Bhorat (2013) reports, “The share of South Africans with access to formal housing (77 percent), electricity (84 percent) and running water (72 percent) has increased drastically since 1994” (para. 3).

The positive economic growth in 70 out of 73 quarters reported since 1994 have made insignificant impact on poverty, inequality and unemployment values because the structure of the growth path favors large firms and labor unions to the exclusion of the informal sector and the unemployed (Bhorat, 2013). One social program created to redress the social imbalances disfavoring blacks was Black Economic Empowerment (BEE). Unfortunately this developed into a front for a limited number of black elite who had had ties to the existing white capitalist power structures even before 1994 (Global Research, 2012).

Unless economic growth becomes more inclusive of small firms, those in rural areas, and the young and jobless, then the returns will only favor the educated, highly skilled, and well connected. Unequal growth is perpetuated by product and labor regulations that protect insider employers and employees (Bhorat, 2013) and this only serves to widen the inequality. In a healthy economy business develops and grows naturally without government intervention and the best people are recruited for their talent, not their color. In attempting to mitigate one type of imbalance, further unintended imbalance ensues.


It would appear on the surface that market reform is not enough to turn around the legacy of Apartheid. Definitive practice of either neoliberal or laissez-faire economic policies cannot run contemporary to a system that relies on wealth and foreign investors to stimulate the economy (Atuahene, 2011). This can only result in polarizing policies that favor the interests of these groups and continue the old woes of the disadvantaged masses Apartheid created. Notwithstanding poor economics, the educational divide also bespeaks Apartheid’s legacy. Despite one of the largest budgets in Africa, South Africa lags behind almost all countries of Africa (, 2015). The country can scarcely move forward in globalization with an inadequately educated workforce, clearly the core of continued inequality and poverty.

©2015 Kathe Messina 


Atuahene, B. (2011). South Africa's land reform crisis: Eliminating the legacy of Apartheid. Foreign Affairs 90 (4): 121–129. Retrieved from

Bhorat, H. (2013). Economic inequality is a major obstacle to growth in South Africa. Retrieved from

Global Research. (2012). Economic and social crisis in post-apartheid South Africa. Retrieved from

NPR. (2014). 20 years after apartheid, South Africa asks, 'How Are We Doing?’ Retrieved from (2015). Education in South Africa. Retrieved from

UNDP. (2014). Human development report 2014. Retrieved from

US Department of State. (2009). The end of apartheid. Retrieved from

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