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South Africa

South Africa

new internationalist
issue 237 - November 1992

Country profile: South Africa

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Where is South Africa?   [image, unknown]
  AUGUST SYCHOLT / CAMERA PRESS [image, unknown]

Since the urban insurrection began in 1984, South Africa has seemed on the brink of major changes that would herald the end of apartheid either through revolution or reform. The release of Nelson Mandela and unbanning of the African National Congress (ANC) in 1990 held great promise.

Walking through Johannesburg's formerly white Hillbrow suburb with its current mix of residents you could well believe apartheid was dead. Some apartheid legislation has gone: the 'Immorality' Act, most of the laws controlling black urbanization and the acts which forbade black purchase of land in much of the country. But the legacy of the system remains starkly obvious - not least in that blacks still cannot vote.

Reformist President FW de Klerk has been willing to negotiate, but reluctant to give up power in exchange for democracy as the ANC demands. The ANC has also compromised in recognizing that the armed struggle was not its strongest suit, and in shifting away from socialist rhetoric. Despite this, in July 1992 the constitutional talks (CODESA) broke down. While most people want to avoid the vortex of civil war and violence, the stakes are high and the historical legacy difficult.

Probably the most important social change over the last decade has been the rapid move to the towns. Informal settlements like Khayelitsha ('new home') near Cape Town hardly existed before 1980; today it is home to some three-quarters of a million people. Such areas have been the site of explosive politics, as impoverished people struggle for scarce resources in a volatile political world.

Black disunity sometimes surprises outsiders. But poverty is intense. And black people like everyone else can be socialists and capitalists, petrol pump attendants or professionals.

The ANC certainly seems to command majority support but it by no means holds a monopoly. Chief Buthelezi's Inkatha still has a base amongst Zulu speakers and some migrant workers on the Rand. Many Inkatha supporters, despite their neo-traditional garb, are industrial workers.

The South African economy is the strongest in the region. But it has been in recession for some years, exacerbating social conflict. Unemployment rates for blacks are extremely high, up to 30 per cent.

Yet there is a good deal to be optimistic about. Most political prisoners have been released and the major black political parties, even the Communist Party, are relatively free to operate. South African destabilization tactics in the region, especially in Mozambique, have eased. Pretoria is full of born-again Afrikaners, who recognize that a new nationalism is unavoidable. There is huge demand for education. Much depends on a political settlement, compromise and the containment of violence.

W. Beinart



LEADER: President FW de Klerk.

ECONOMY: GNP per capita $2,530 (US $21,790).
Monetary unit: Rand.
Main exports: Gold, metals and minerals.
Main imports: Machinery and equipment, vehicles and chemicals.

PEOPLE: 35.9 million (60 per cent urban).

HEALTH: Infant mortality 66 per 1,000 live births (US 9 per 1,000).

CULTURE: Africans make up 75 per cent of the population; Whites 14 per cent; Coloureds 9 per cent; Asians 2.5 per cent. Dutch colonised Cape in 17th century; Zulu and other African kingdoms expanded in early 19th century; Boer republics established in interior in mid-19th century; British conquered them all. Union under white rule in 1910; apartheid introduced in 1948; Republic in 1961; ANC unbanned in 1990.
Religion: Mainly Christian. Dutch Reformed churches predominate amongst Afrikaners and coloured people; African independent churches have largest proportion of African membership, followed by Catholics and Methodists.
Languages: English and Afrikaans are the official languages; Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho and Tswana the main African languages.

Sources: The State of fhe World's Children 1992, World Bank Report 1992.

Last profiled in August 1982



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INCOME DISTRIBUTION [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Wide racial gap; economic recession means high unemployment.

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Figures not available.

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SELF-RELIANCE [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Self-sufficient in food and many raw materials.

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FREEDOM [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
No black vote; most political prisoners freed; lively press; security forces uncontrolled.

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POSITION OF WOMEN [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Black women still bear brunt of poverty.

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LIFE EXPECTANCY [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
62 years (US 76 years); estimate less than 60 for Africans, 73 for whites.

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Politics now

White National Party still rules
affer 44 years, but losing grip.


NI star rating

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previous page choose a different magazine go to the contents page go to the NI home page [image, unknown]


New Internationalist issue 237 magazine cover This article is from the November 1992 issue of New Internationalist.
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