The latest South African census has shown a chasmic gap between rich and poor and that white households earn, on average, six times as much as black households. These are hardly astonishing revelations; after all, 79% of South Africa’s population is black, so it is to be expected that they should occupy the bottom rungs of the economic ladder given their vast majority. Of course, the years of economic undermining and educational limitations imposed by Apartheid have given the blacks a long road to parity with their white countrymen.
What the census report does not reveal is that a black minority has acquired monumental wealth and status since the end of Apartheid. Namely, those occupying, or with close links to, political power. Black politicians have enriched themselves and their families alike through corruption, nepotism and cronyism to the detriment of their fellow blacks, as well as the white and coloured minority.
President Zuma has unsurprisingly praised the “great strides” taken by South Africa since the end of Apartheid. But is he right to? Sure, infant mortality has dropped considerably and Aids rates are in decline but the plight of South Africa’s poorest citizens, most of whom are black, is probably worse than under Apartheid. Minor political freedoms have not be mirrored by educational, social and economic opportunities. Zuma has pledged that by 2030 every community in the country will have a clinic, a school, a library and a police station. Again, one has to ask, is this claim serious? Zuma will be lucky to be alive by 2030, his stint in political office surely long over by then. It is a throwaway statement designed to appease the masses and those few genuine reformers within the government. Indeed, Zuma has hardly given the impression of a man concerned by his political legacy since he assumed the presidency.
The simple fact remains that, given its historical legacy, South Africa remains virtually ungovernable. We refer here not simply to Apartheid, but to the simultaneous colonisation by two antagonistic white powers and, before that, the myriad tribal groups and political entities that still shape regional identities and enmities amongst black South Africans. Even the strongest, most upright leader would find governing such a country challenging and Zuma is certainly not that.
Unfortunately, for the vast majority of South Africans, black and white, a higher standard of living and improved economic opportunities will remain a pipe dream. The self-interest of the powerful minority condemns them to struggle on.