South Africa Today

The World Cup has ended, and with it South Africa’s reputation has soared. The country has enjoyed a boost of free and entirely positive publicity from the event, in contrast to most reports from the Western media – which tend to focus upon the AIDS epidemic and the country’s complicated politics.

South Africa today is a product of Nelson Mandela’s work. It was Nelson Mandela’s continuous (and mostly successful) outreach to South Africa’s white minority ensured a degree of racial peace few dared hope would pass during after the days of apartheid.

Indeed, the more one explores the history of countries afflicted with similar problems, the more remarkable the man’s achievement seems. When a subjugated majority overthrows the rich dominant minority, things often end very very badly. Too often the end result is something like Haiti and Zimbabwe, when an oppressed black majority won its freedom against a white minority but failed to end the racial hatred. Those hatreds ended up tearing both countries apart.

Then there is the example of Rwanda, when the dominant and minority Tutsis lost control to the majority Hutus, following colonization’s end. The majority Hutus discriminated against the Tutsis for decades afterwards, discrimination which cumulated in genocide. Today a Tutsi party once more holds the reins of power in Rwanda.

The scars left by apartheid are also deep and lasting. There is, for instance, the matter of continuing white flight. When the dominant minority loses control, those in the minority often flee in droves. This usually leaves a country in economic ruin, because only members of the minority have the skills to actually run the place. Although South Africa has generally avoided this due to the efforts of Mr. Mandela, the country is still experiencing a brain drain as whites leave, albeit at a much reduced pace.

There are other signs of continuing tension. Blacks – including the president – continue to sing songs such as “Bring me my machine gun” and “Shoot the Boer.” Whites rarely wave the national flag, which was changed in 1994 to replace the apartheid-era flag. They do not vote for the ANC. Nor do blacks vote for the Democratic Alliance, which many consider the party for whites.

These problems continue to plague South Africa. Since the end of apartheid, the country has not done extremely well.

But neither has it done too poorly. Compared to countries like Haiti, Zimbabwe, and Rwanda it counts as an unqualified success. The children of Mandela remain a symbol, however imperfect, of injustice transformed into reconciliation.




Clinton's Legacy: Mandela Speaks

[Cross-posted from ProgressiveHistorians.]

Chris Bowers says we need to examine what we, as liberals, see as the legacy of Bill Clinton's Presidency.  Mike McCurry says "the record and legacy of the Clinton presidency is, dare I use the word, 'stain'," which makes sense, because that's a term McCurry had to explain a lot as Clinton's press secretary.  David Sirota says "Clinton's 1992 campaign proved that populism is the way for a Democrat to run a successful challenger race," which also makes sense, because Sirota is a populist.

I never liked Clinton, discounting his triangulation and his eschewing of transformational leadership.  (In fact, my earliest political memory is of supporting Jerry Brown against Clinton in 1992 and then switching to Ross Perot.)  But on the important topic of Clinton's legacy, I think we should hear from a man who is uniquely qualified to judge history because he has lived so much of it.  Let's listen to what Nelson Mandela had to say in 1998, when he toasted a beleagured Clinton at the White House:

More than friends, we are among those on whom history has visited the same pains and deprivations, and who have shared our victories.

There's more...


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