Post-Apartheid: Mandela to Present


One of Mandela’s most pressing concerns as president was to combat the socioeconomic consequences of apartheid by alleviating poverty and extending social services. He also established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to expose the horrors of apartheid. The TRC gave victims of apartheid a platform to expose those who committed human rights abuses. Public trials were held for the most prominent cases. Far from being a propaganda machine for the new government though, the TRC also laid bare many of the atrocities committed by those who resisted apartheid. Those who confessed to their crimes could request amnesty. Those who did not confess were open to prosecution. 

Mandela only served one term. Already in his 80s, he continued to serve South Africa as an activist and philanthropist. Though his successor, Mbeki, was much more controversial, Mandela continued to support Mbeki and the ANC throughout his two terms, from 1999 to 2008. Though far less popular, Mbeki proved himself shrewd and capable, especially when handling the opposition. His ability to effectively isolate his political enemies limited their power against him. He was also able to get various oppositional parties to support him on issues, co-opting them for a time. 



However, over his two terms Mbeki fell from popularity. For one, he effectively denied the HIV crisis in South Africa and beyond. He gave precedence to scientists who critiqued the idea that HIV caused AIDS and refered to drugs meant to treat AIDS as poisonous, instituting policies that denied drugs to sick people. Instead Mbeki encouraged people to use herbal medicines, such as beetroot and lemon juice, to treat the disease. Similarly, he refused to condemn the situation in Zimbabwe. Under Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe, state-sponsored violence against political opponents and opposition movements was rampant, coupled with the seizure of white-owned farms and sanctions against the press and judiciary. Mbeki’s refusal to condemn Mugabe and take a harder line on the dictator worried many of South Africa’s citizens. 

In 2007 Mbeki began to lose popularity. Despite facing charges of corruption relating to a multi-billion dollar arms deal, Jacob Zuma, Mbeki’s former Deputy President, became president of the ANC--defeating Mbeki and positioning himself for a presidential race the following year. Shortly after, a high judge found that Zuma’s case was politically motivated by Mbeki and illegal, resulting in Mbeki’s resignation. Kgalema Motlanthe took over as a “caretaker president” until the elections the following year, which Jacob Zuma won as the ANC’s candidate. The ANC gained the majority at 65% of the vote in 2008, a slight decrease from the previous election.



An increasing problem for the post-apartheid government has been the emigration of skilled white workers from the country. More than 800,000 white people left the country amid safety concerns and losing their privileged status in the new regime. Concerns over safety are not entirely unjustified, as South Africa has led the world in murder rates since the early 1990s. Other problems South Africa has continued to face are HIV and poverty. Though since the end of the Mbeki era the situation has improved, nearly 20% of the country is infected with HIV/AIDS. On top of this, 47% of the country lives in poverty. The slow pace of transformation, coupled with economic mismanagement and corruption, fuels the frustration and protests of the populace. The ANC rose to prominence on the back of a socialist agenda, but its establishment of neoliberal policies continues to cause unrest.