Zuma Plays Up South Africa Democratization; Others Say Economy Hasn’t Changed

Zuma Plays Up South Africa Democratization; Others Say Economy Hasn’t Changed

Since apartheid ended in 1994, the South African economy has expanded 83 percent, per-capita income has risen 40 percent and total employment has risen by 3.5 million, but these achievements haven’t received the attention they deserve, says South African President Jacob Zuma.

Zuma played up South Africa’s democratic achievements ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit later this week, according to a report in Bloomberg News.

“South Africa is a much better place than it was before 1994, and the last five years have pushed that change forward,” Zuma said in the report. “The achievements of the country and the ANC government do not obtain the necessary exposure.”

South African welfare grants now reach about 16 million people, up from 2.5 million, according to Bloomberg News.

Since Nelson Mandela came to power in 1994, progress has been mixed in South Africa, the report says. Discriminatory laws are off the books and millions of people now have housing, water and electricity, but unemployment is 25 percent, slums are the sites of protests and violence at mines caused more than 50 deaths since 2012. Zuma is mired in corruption scandals and his ruling African National Congress shows signs of divisions, the report says.

“We no longer take it for granted that things are just going to go smoothly because we are the country of Nelson Mandela,” said Mzukisi Qobo, a politics lecturer at the University of Pretoria, in the Bloomberg News report.

Mandela, 94, has been hospitalized in critical condition. Zuma cancelled a trip to Mozambique after visiting Mandela in hospital, according to an emailed statement, the report says.

Disenchantment with the ANC-led government is rising, the report says. Ten million people lack formal housing, 2.3 million households don’t have proper toilets and half of all children who start school drop out before completing the 12-year curriculum.

“The transformation of South Africa from apartheid to a growing democracy is a big deal, but South Africa has some unfinished business,” U.S. civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson said in a Bloomberg News interview.

The government has not made much progress reducing apartheid-era income inequalities, the report says. Black citizens, who make up 79 percent of the 53 million population, earn on average a sixth of what whites earn, and 1.9 million households have no income.

“A small, ultra-rich, still mainly white and male elite owns and controls all the most powerful industrial and financial companies,” said Zwelinzima Vavi, who leads the Congress of South African Trade Unions, a 2.2 million-member ANC ally, according to the Bloomberg News report. “We have made great advances in areas of human rights, civil liberties and welfare payments, but have left our economy little changed.”