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Has the ANC ushered in neo-apartheid?

South Africa

The African National Congress (ANC) came to power in 1994 amid great expectations that they would bring prosperity to the black majority.

On the surface, the party has succeeded. Prospects are much improved since 1912 when the struggle began; black youth no longer face a narrow choice between miner and farm labourer. Many at the centenary celebrations will belong to a new black middle class, winners from the government’s Black Economic Empowerment programme. They have an international outlook, and see a world of possibilities.

Split society: shack dwellers in Cape Town are dwarfed by a huge billboard promoting a ‘brighter’ future.

Eric Miller/Panos

But those present will be only too aware of the sprawling poverty outside. ‘The wage share of national income is dropping,’ says Mazibuko Jara of Amandla! magazine. ‘ANC policies have redistributed wealth to rich owners of capital, reproducing inequality and neo-apartheid geographies.’

Many poorer people have yet to reap the benefits from post-apartheid society. Although the ANC has made investments in housing and other public works, the speed of transformation is very sluggish.

The poor are now held hostage to subtler processes of class exclusion. Opportunities exist mostly for the educated and well-connected, and the interests of the new middle-class are increasingly diverging from those of the rural and urban poor.

‘There’s an ever-growing number of unemployed, or even unemployable, young people, many of whom will never find formal work. And by that I mean, ever,’ says education activist Nomalanga Mkhize. ‘What sort of society are we building?’

South Africa is still highly unequal. White males hold 73.1 per cent of top management positions while representing 6.7 per cent of the economically active population, according to the Commission for Employment Equity. Black professionals are gaining ground within state-owned enterprises, but the structures that guard access to jobs are blighted by patronage politics. Public works are bogged down by dubious tendering processes, and ‘irregularities’ are creeping into social services provision.

The failure of the ANC-led government to extend prosperity is creating serious tensions. In November 2011, President Zuma sanctioned the suspension of Julius Malema from the ANC, for ‘sowing discord’. But Malema was championing a decisive – and popular – solution to inequality: nationalization of mines and expropriation of white-owned land.

It’s South Africa’s dual economy that is sowing discord. Ayanda Kota of the Unemployed Peoples’ Movement believes the ANC has betrayed its ideals: ‘As [the revolutionary anticolonialist thinker] Frantz Fanon would say, the ANC is keeping us drunk on the memory of the past struggle. They say, “we’ve given you freedom, now go back to your caves”. They’ve forgotten the voices of the poor.’

The government has spent much time listening to outside investors. Now it needs to respond to the voices from within.

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