South Africa, for better and for worse 15

The cruelly oppressive apartheid regime in South Africa came to an end when elections, open at last to non-white voters, brought the African National Congress (ANC) to power in 1994.

A South African academic who lives in Johannesburg has sent us, at our request, this view of what everyday life is like in South Africa now:

South Africa really is such a peculiar place in which to live. Johannesburg, at the moment, is looking glorious: at least, its suburbs are. We have had wonderful rains (Wagnerian storms in fact!), and the gardens of the Northern suburbs are positively lush. The inner city is a curate’s egg: some parts have been reclaimed; others are lost forever, drug-lord-dominated, filthy slums, heartbreaking to see, if one ever dares to venture near them. In the part I live, we are pretty comfortable, but one always has to be cautious.You never stroll anywhere at night, and do not place a handbag beside your chair in a restaurant. Theft is rife, and one still hears of dreadful rapes and armed attacks on homes in affluent Johannesburg. Crimes are always vicious, and car thefts continue.

Motorists have to be very alert. Traffic is mind-boggling, and the roads are anarchic, a hellish cacophony of hooting and a blur of careering, lethal vehicles, dominated by the so-called “black taxis”: mini-vans crammed with passengers, and driven by desperate, unlicensed youths, who frequently kill their helpless passengers by causing horrendous collisions. Over the December vacation, over 1000 people were killed in road accidents, most of them involving taxis.

Yet, there are still stylish restaurants in which to wine and dine; local cinemas get the transmitted operas from the Met and the dramas from London’s National Theatre – so, although our live theatre is moribund except for revived “protest works” and musicals, we are not quite theatrically starved. So much for the good news.

The bad is pretty dire. Poverty and unemployment are appalling: there are tattered beggars on every street corner. The wealthy “Black diamonds” [the new elite] care even less for the poor than did the Nats [the Nationalist Party which ruled in the apartheid era], and the ANC’s corruption puts that of the Nats to shame. In what is known as North West Province (North Western Transvaal), every ANC-run municipality is being investigated for corruption, and, in Limpopo Province, there is complete bankruptcy owing to ANC corruption. A doctor friend of mine put it aptly: under the Nats, bureaucrats repaired the roads and then kept the left-over money; ANC bureaucrats keep all the money and never bother to repair the roads.  That is very accurate. Oh, and, as The London Times put it, South Africa must be the only country in which there is Affirmative Action for a vast majority, and an over-taxed minority supports the mass populace. Talk of “nationalization” [ie full socialism] idiotically continues, but I think that the greed of the ANC will prevent any attempts at complete nationalization, for President Zuma does not wish to slaughter the golden-egg-laying goose.

In short, we live in a kleptocracy, under a regime voted in by the majority. I shall never regret the overthrow of the vile Nats or the enfranchisement of the unenfranchised, but I hoped for ‘different’, not more of ‘similar’. One’s only hope is that one might live to see a truly democratic government in power in South Africa.