The Nightmare of Mandela’s Dream in South Africa

December 11, 2013

Nelson Mandela has been praised to the rafters for promoting peace and reconciliation in post-apartheid South Africa, but on the ground there is precious little evidence his message has been heard or followed.

The dawning of South Africa as a “rainbow nation” that was constantly touted after the end of apartheid in 1990 remains, at best, a distant aspiration and at worst a political confidence trick.

The reality is that at least 10 per cent and by some counts close to a quarter of white South Africans have fled the country and emigrated since 1990.

The overwhelming reason they give for packing up and flying off is the ever-present threat of violent crime.

Indeed, South Africa is at the top or close to the top of the United Nations’ global ranking for murder and rapes. The decades of apartheid imposed by brutal security forces and white minority rule have embedded a culture of violence that continues to permeate South African society.

A particular group that has seen little or nothing of reconciliation in the last 20 years is the country’s white farmers. There remain, of course, unresolved issues around whites still holding the best agricultural land, but close to 4,000 white farmers and members of their families have been murdered in attacks on their farms since the end of apartheid.

The national census taken in the months following Mandela’s release in February, 1990, after 27 years in prison found there were just over five million white people in South Africa, making up about 10 per cent of the population.

Since then the number has dropped dramatically as tens of thousands of whites headed for the exit, fearing the rampant crime they saw all around them was evidence that Mandela’s promises of peace and reconciliation would not be honoured.

There is a wide variation in the estimates of how many whites have packed and emigrated.

South Africa’s Statistical Council has put the number as low as 127,000, while in 2006 the South African Institute of Race Relations put the number of white emigrants at close to 850,000, and others have said about one million white people have left.

However, perhaps the most useful evidence comes from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Data the OECD collected in 2010 from its 19 member countries found a total of close to 600,000 immigrants from South Africa.

The favourite destination has been the United Kingdom, which has accumulated 227,000 post-apartheid immigrants from South Africa by 2010. Second favourite was Australia with 155,690 South African immigrants and the United States was third with 78,616. Canada had taken 38,310 South Africans by 2010.

This exodus, of course, represents a significant draining away of the human resources of South Africa. Those who can get out usually represent those with the money and transportable skills, such as medicine and mine engineering, that are welcomed elsewhere.

Surveys of these migrants have shown that rising crime rates and a lack of confidence that these will be confronted effectively by the national and provincial governments is the overriding reason for emigration.

South Africa has been a violent country for many decades. Even before the end of apartheid the number of people murdered in domestic or criminal incidents far outnumbered what were called “political killings,” usually meaning confrontations between protesters and the police.

In the 1980s political killings might number a handful a week, while non-political murders were usually about 50 a week.

Today, the murder rate in South Africa averages about 50 a day. This has fallen from a high point in 1994-95 at the time of Mandela’s election to the presidency and a brutal war between the Zulu Inkatha movement based in Natal, and Mandel’s African National Congress.

However, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime puts South Africa second out of 60 countries surveyed for the number of assaults and murders as a proportion of population. South Africa has the highest incidence of rape in the world. In one survey a quarter of the women questioned said they had been raped and a similar proportion of men surveyed by the Medical Research Council in 2009 said they had committed rape.

A country-wide response to lawlessness and government’s inability to control crime has been the growth of gated communities, either purpose built or created by fencing off existing communities.

Thousands of these protected communities have sprung up in recent years. In Cape Town alone between 1995 and 2005 the number increased by 153 per cent.

These new apartheid enclaves are mostly in wealthy, predominantly white urban areas and are protected by armed security guards or residents’ vigilante groups.

One of Mandela’s early moves as President as part of his Rural Protection Plan was to allow in 1997 white farmers to form their own “commando” groups to protect friends and neighbours from attack.

Mobile Commando units were, of course, a creation of South Africa’s Afrikaans farmers in their fights both with black Africans and the British a hundred years ago.

Not surprisingly therefore, in 2003 the South African government ordered the disbanding of the commando units because they had been “part of the apartheid state’s security apparatus.”

Copyright © Jonathan Manthorpe 2013