This is an excellent book for anyone who wants to understand the dynamics of key issues in recent South African history. Despite the title, the author does a good job of explaining the relevant historical contexts that led up to the challenges of the past two decades. Reading Mandela’s ‘Long Walk To Freedom’ beforehand is recommended if you want to go even deeper into the history.

Your reading activity
Dates 19 May 2013 – 12 June 2013
Time spent reading 8 hours, 30 minutes
Highlights 69
Comments 10
Used app Readmill

South Africa’s negotiated transition from white rule to democracy was one of the wonders of the late twentieth century.

Beyond the small multiracial elite, South Africa is a country of polite polarisation.

this was after all a man who was to say on meeting the Spice Girls, a sassy British pop band, that they were his ‘heroes’.

Andrew Doran Andrew Doran

I had forgotten about that! How embarrassing.

His presidency was not a golden age, as his friends are the first to concede. He had an autocratic streak. He neglected key areas of policy, most critically the fight against AIDS. He was also overly loyal to underperforming ministers.

The ANC inherited a stronger judiciary and a more vibrant civil society than anywhere else in sub-Saharan Africa.

So determined was Mbeki to create a counterweight to the United States that South Africa even sided with China in voting against a UN Security Council resolution condemning the Burmese junta, a move that Tutu blasted as a repudiation of all that the ANC had fought for in the anti-apartheid struggle.

His delicate frame and slight stature marked him out as an improbable Afrikaner. This is a race that has long taken pride in muscular physique forged by outdoor life and a meat-heavy diet.

Yugoslavia or, nearer to hand, Zimbabwe offers a grim example of how historical grievances can lie fallow for decades before being whipped up by unscrupulous leaders.

Much depends on the ANC and its ability to resist the temptation to play the politics of race when it is under threat.

Over ten thousand people were killed in political violence in the four years between Mandela’s release from prison and his assumption of office.

But for all too many senior officials, the purpose of a career in the party had clearly shifted from opposing one of the most notorious regimes in history to making a fortune – and as quickly as possible.

The rejection of an African liberation movement by its own people is a seismic event that tends to happen only after several decades in power.

Mbeki’s bid for a third term as ANC leader had risked turning South Africa into Zimbabwe with Mbeki playing the malign role of Mugabe, he said. ‘We were saying we could not be Zimbabwe. No, no, not here – in South Africa, we are better than that. Thabo should have listened to us. But he did not. He thought he knew best. Now the ANC has taken back control of the party.

The result reflected as much the canniness of Zuma’s political machine in managing to manoeuvre a majority of the party’s four thousand delegates to vote for him as any innate integrity at the heart of the ANC. More than a quarter of the members of the new seventy-strong NEC either had criminal convictions or were being investigated or had had to resign from office over ethical lapses.

The phenomenon, which became known as ‘necklacing’, entailed throwing a rubber tyre filled with petrol around someone’s chest and arms, and then setting it alight. Its emergence had marked the time when South Africa’s good versus evil narrative lost its stark simplicity. Images of mobs dancing around their blazing victims sent a chill through more sober leaders of the ANC as they realised the extent to which apartheid and the battle against it had brutalised the country’s youth.

One of the reasons behind the budget surplus of 2007 was that many provincial government departments were so incompetent, overwhelmed and, in some cases, corrupt, that they were unable to draw up viable plans to spend their budgets.

One of the reasons behind the budget surplus of 2007 was that many provincial government departments were so incompetent, overwhelmed and, in some cases, corrupt, that they were unable to draw up viable plans to spend their budgets.

in the understandable post-liberation drive to promote blacks rapidly to positions of authority, many experienced white civil servants, surveyors, engineers and other professionals were encouraged to take early retirement, and their replacements were not always as well qualified for their jobs.

This was compounded by the tendency of the ANC to appoint some officials on the basis of struggle credentials rather than merit, an approach that affected the highest levels of government.

Over the following decade the pass rate for the school-leaving exams steadily declined, from 73 per cent in 2003 to 66 per cent in 2006. The Institute of Race Relations, a think tank that had charted policies for decades, concluded grimly in 2008 that it was debatable whether state education was any better than it had been under apartheid. Two of South Africa’s most prominent black women, Wendy Luhabe, a leading businesswoman, and Mamphela Ramphele, the legendary anti-apartheid activist who served as a managing director of the World Bank, endorsed this devastating conclusion.

To the frustration of Treasury officials, more than 800 million rand of the education budget in the Eastern Cape was unspent in 2007, a reflection of the notorious incompetence of its provincial government.

There is a culture of violence at the heart of South African society.

Andrew Doran Andrew Doran

A phrase I saw repeated in the press with the recent Oscar Pistorious case. This book was written long before then.

South Africa’s crime statistics are extraordinary. A decade after apartheid an average of fifty people were murdered a day. In a population of about fifty million people that meant about forty-one people were murdered a year for every hundred thousand residents, eight times higher than in the United States and twenty times higher than in Western Europe.

In 2007 there were over nineteen thousand murders and more than fifty thousand reported rapes, and more than eighteen thousand people were the victims of violent robberies, including the hijacking of cars.

Our elder son’s French teacher was held up at gunpoint in daylight and decided to move with her family back to Beirut.

in Johannesburg: in the first six months of 2008, nearly three hundred bank cash dispensers were blown up, a 3,000 per cent increase over three years, attributed to the thriving trade in explosives from the gold mines

Over the years the authorities invested heavily in the police. More than a decade after the end of white rule, analysts estimated that South Africa allocated three times as much per capita on criminal justice as the international average. And yet, as was the case with so many other government departments, the force was unable to devise adequate policies to justify its budget. In 2007 the South African Police Service returned 2.5 billion rand ($350 million) to the Treasury.

One of the most striking physical changes in Johannesburg over the first fourteen years of majority rule was the growth of the suburban fortress: the average height of walls rose by several feet; gated suburbs and office parks sprouted on the fringes of the city like medieval walled towns; more and more roads were fenced off with booms and sentries.

Andrew Doran Andrew Doran

You really do notice the high walls and barbed wire when you arrive and drive through Johannesburg.

De Klerk was often compared to Mikhail Gorbachev, the reformist Soviet leader. The analogy was unfair on the Afrikaner. While Gorbachev proved unable to adapt his vision and was overtaken by the process he had unleashed, de Klerk kept modifying his plans as he went along, as his initial vision of a permanent coalition entrenching whites’ interest proved unsustainable.

one of Afrikanerdom’s founding myths, the claim that God had been on their side at their defeat of a Zulu army at Blood River in 1838.

Andrew Doran Andrew Doran

Wondering if this is one of the reasons behind whites in SA being such a religious people (in general, in my limited experience).

At a caucus of the party’s MPs soon after they had walked out of the government, the chief whip argued confidently that within a decade he would be back in government. ‘You wait, once the Mandela glue goes, we will get 30 or 40 per cent of the vote.’6 Within seven years, the party had ceased to exist.

With the stigma of apartheid removed, many of their cultural and intellectual leaders liked to argue that Afrikaners would find it easier to adapt to black rule than the English speakers, many of whom still thought of themselves as Europeans.

At the end of white rule there were an estimated 5.2 million whites in South Africa, including 3 million Afrikaners. A report extrapolated from official household surveys estimated that over three-quarters of a million whites emigrated in the decade after 1995. The report concluded that the white population had sunk from 5.1 million to 4.3 million between 1995 and 2005.

But for the long-term stability of the country three things needed to happen quickly: the Democratic Alliance to become blacker, the ANC to become more tolerant to opposition criticism, and whites to become more involved in their country whether through local councils, housing, community policing or schools.

South Africa’s mixed experience of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), the policy designed to redress the financial inequities of apartheid, offered salutary lessons. While the justice and strategic wisdom of a transfer of stakes in white companies to black entities are indisputable, a decade after the end of white rule the initiative was tarnished by perceptions that the principal beneficiaries were an elite with good connections to the ANC.


Andrew Doran Andrew Doran

A new word for me. I thought this was a spelling mistake!

Saki Macozoma, a confidant of Mbeki, was a director of Standard Bank, the country’s largest bank, and was one of the half-dozen wealthiest BEE business people. But insiders in the bank had no doubt he was there for his political nous and connections rather than his financial acumen. Nor did he trouble to hide that politics and ideological debate, rather than business and the fluctuations of the market, coursed through his bloodstream.

legislation that came into effect in 2007, when BEE was renamed Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE). Businesses had to comply with a BEE scorecard, for which they earned points not just for the transfer of equity but also for training black staff, appointing black managers and board members, and procuring services from other companies that had earned their BEE spurs.

But to judge the success of BEE by the ownership statistics on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange was misleading. The history of other countries trying to effect transfers of wealth suggests that ownership has a short-term symbolic value. What matters is the formation of a new business culture.

One of the most obvious disadvantages of the policy was that it stifled entrepreneurial spirit and encouraged instead a culture of entitlement, an expectation that the state and white business would deliver. Its complex regulations also affected productivity and dissuaded businesses from investing in South Africa. Bankers excited about the prospects in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa said that the BEE legislation was a major disincentive for investors at a time when there were many attractive emerging markets.

Land is arguably the most sensitive and complex issue for post-colonial African governments.

In South Africa, the most urbanised and industrialised country in sub-Saharan Africa, land is less important to the economy and to the national psyche than it is in Zimbabwe.

The post-apartheid constitution of 1996 pledged restitution or redress for all dispossessed of their property since the 1913 Land Act. It also enshrined property rights and promised farmers a fair market rate if their land was to be expropriated either for land claimants or for redistribution. Both were laudable principles. But adhering to both was to prove difficult. The two were not unrealisable, but the state bureaucracy lacked sufficient capable civil servants to administer the reforms.

‘We’ve had four different heads of agriculture in this region in as many years,’ said von Maltitz. ‘We wrote to all of them, and nothing happens. It is always the same with these projects. The government will help you buy the land, and then there is no follow-up help at all.’

In the field stretching from the farmhouse to the road, the farmworkers had been harvesting the orchards. They had clearly worked with a metronomic precision. They had started at the farmhouse end and were making their way towards the road. It was a routine that the orchards had seen over several decades. Only these harvesters were using axes, not their fingers. The stumps were at a uniform height of six inches high. One by one the trees were being chopped down for firewood.

‘Every time a man with expertise retires, it’s as good as a library burned down.’

The UN estimated that, of an estimated 33 million people living with HIV worldwide in 2008, 5.7 million were in South Africa. Nearly 1 in 3 pregnant women between the ages of twenty and twenty-four were HIV-positive.

Mbeki’s quibbling with the accepted science – in particular the denial of ARVs to patients – and his reluctance to provide drugs to prevent pregnant women passing on the virus to their babies caused the premature deaths of 365,000 people, according to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health.

In 1999, a contact in the presidency called Zackie with alarming news. He had been told, he said, to remove HIV as a category for unfair discrimination in a new bill about to go through Parliament. Why? asked Zackie. Back came the perturbing answer: ‘Because he doesn’t believe HIV causes AIDS.’

But while Mandela’s government neglected the fight against HIV/AIDS, Mbeki’s guilt would be of a different order. First he questioned the very nature of the pandemic, and then he impeded the most effective way of treating it.

In 2007 Anglo American was to estimate that, taking into account absenteeism, early retirement, treating AIDS-related conditions, death benefits and recruiting replacements, the overall cost of failing to provide an AIDS-infected employee with ARVs was about $32,000 per person. In the same year it was calculated that the overall cost of treating a gold miner with AIDS was 1,200 rand (then about $175) a month.

To the embarrassment of Mbeki, its active ingredient was soon revealed as an industrial solvent used for freezing animal organs, with no effect on HIV. But Mbeki would not take his setback lightly. When South Africa’s Medicines Control Council (MCC) called for an immediate halt to tests on humans, Mbeki accused it of sacrificing lives by holding up a ‘miracle cure’ amid ‘the pressing crisis of an escalating pandemic of HIV/AIDS’.22 The MCC’s chairman, Peter Folb, was later fired after refusing to allow human testing of the drug, and the council was stripped of much of its authority. It was the first sign that Mbeki was prepared to give primacy to politics over science, although there may also have been another factor in the saga. There have been persistent allegations that the ANC may have been promised a share of the profits for party funds.

Andrew Doran Andrew Doran

An amazing allegation. Shocking if true.

In 2001 average life expectancy was fifty-four; by 2008 it was down to forty-seven.

Even after the 2003 decision to provide ARVs, Mbeki’s minister of health, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, continued to imply that people had a choice between nutrition and medicine. Her interventions were all the more inexcusable, as she was a trained doctor

The fatalism surrounding discussion of AIDS cannot all be blamed on Mbeki. He was preaching his denialist message to a receptive audience. The stigma over HIV is deeply entrenched in society, particularly in rural areas.

Jacob Zuma’s ignominious role in the scandal that is South Africa’s official response to AIDS reflects how the spread of the disease is linked to the patriarchal and macho view of sexual relations that still holds sway in many parts of Africa. When he was deputy president from 1999 to 2005, he had special responsibilities for overseeing AIDS policies. Yet the following year, when he was on trial for raping an HIV-positive family friend, he told the court that after having sexual intercourse he took a shower to wash away the virus. He was acquitted, but it was never in dispute that the man who had been in charge of the country’s AIDS policy had knowingly had unprotected sex with a woman who was HIV-positive.

Andrew Doran Andrew Doran


In 1994, rather than giving Zuma, the ANC’s senior Zulu, a national cabinet post, as might have been his due given his seniority in the party, Mandela appointed him to the provincial cabinet in KwaZulu-Natal, which was governed by an Inkatha-led coalition. His mission was to broker a lasting peace among the Zulus and end a decade of turmoil in the region. This Zuma helped to negotiate, as probably the finest achievement of his long and varied career. It was also a mark of his qualities as a good party man that he had accepted the relatively junior post without evident disgruntlement.

Andrew Doran Andrew Doran

Although he comes across as a bit of a clown, he clearly has some fine achievements in his past.

Between 25 October 1995 and 1 July 2005, Shaik gave him 4,072,499 rand in 783 payments, according to Zuma’s 2007 indictment on multiple charges of corruption. The question of what exactly Zuma thought Shaik expected in return for this colossal investment was to dominate the most explosive trial of the post-apartheid era and ultimately to precipitate the greatest split in the ANC for forty years. At the very least Zuma’s behaviour in accepting the money betrays a lack of judgement that marked him out as a controversial role model for a young country struggling to find its way and to avoid slipping into the corrupt ways of so many post-independence African states.

There is a steely fist under the velvet glove.

If South Africa is lucky, Zuma will be its Ronald Reagan. He will make the country feel good about itself after the awkward questions that Mbeki had asked of it, and leave the business of governing to technocrats.

To secure first his comeback and then his election, Zuma had to make extravagant promises to people inside and outside the party. He was indebted both politically and financially.

“Mshini Wami” will end up on the dustbin heap. What kind of president sings “Mshini Wami”?

Andrew Doran Andrew Doran

Not the most pleasant of songs! Meaning here:

The ideal solution to the power struggle in the ANC would have been for both Zuma and Mbeki to have stepped aside, paving the way for someone from the next generation to take over, someone less scarred by the battles of the past. Instead, South Africa was to enter a new age of uncertainty.

argued that white Zimbabweans’ retreat into a laager contributed to the disaster that unfolded under Mugabe. ‘They said, “We’ve given them freedom, and let’s retire to our tents and get rich.” There was a retreat from public responsibility,’ he said. White South Africans needed to bear that in mind. ‘Thank God we haven’t done that,’ he concluded, although many would argue that most white South Africans had done exactly that.

By winning freedom after the end of the Cold War, the ANC took power in a post-ideological age, when it was far harder to pursue ruinous economic policies. There was also no totemic Mugabe figure in South Africa holding the country in his thrall; one of Mandela’s many gifts to South Africa was to step down after one term.

If South Africa is to correct the corrosive drift of the first fifteen years of democracy, it is the ANC that has to change.

Arguably the most seismic event for South Africa in 2007 was not the toppling of Mbeki but rather an announcement made by the tall and retiring Afrikaner chief executive of Standard Bank, South Africa’s largest bank. Jacko Maree had clinched a deal for the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, the biggest lending bank in Asia, to take a 20 per cent stake in Standard Bank. It was the largest single foreign investment in South Africa since the end of apartheid and a dramatic sign of China’s expanding ambitions for Africa. It was also a reminder of how South Africa is the obvious launchpad for the rest of the world to move into Africa.

Too often the past is just a convenient distraction from the present.

The page references in this index correspond to the printed edition from which this ebook was created. To find a specific word or phrase from the index, please use the search feature of your ebook reader.

Andrew Doran Andrew Doran

Search feature? :-)