South Africa: “rainbow miracle” or “mired in decay”?

Posted on June 8, 2010. Filed under: Economy, News, Race Relations |


Several months ago, journalist Diana Geddes of The Economist visited the IJR and interviewed several members of staff, including Executive Director Fanie du Toit. These interviews, together with publications including the 2009 SA Reconciliation Barometer Report and the 2009 Transformation Audit, constituted sources for a “Special Report on South Africa” that appeared in the print edition of The Economist on 3 June.

After reading and reflecting on the Special Report, I think it is always important to be honest about the challenges South Africa continues to face after 16 years of democracy.  I also feel, however, that these past 16 years have been full of South African success stories, which seem to feature in national and international headlines far less often.

Some of the  fundamental questions posed by Geddes in the Special Report are captured in the following opening paragraph:

Can the “miracle” nation, which won plaudits around the world for its peaceful transition to democracy after centuries of white-supremacist rule, conquer the bitter divisions of its past to turn itself into the “rainbow nation” of Nelson Mandela’s dreams? Or will it become ever more mired in bad governance, racial tension, poverty, corruption, violence and decay to turn into yet another African failed state? With Zimbabwe, its neighbour to the north, an ever-present reminder of what can happen after just a couple of decades of post-liberation single-party rule, many South Africans, black and white, worry that their country may be reaching a tipping point. (Full article here)

I am left wondering if this really captures the nuances and complexities of the South Africa of our daily lived experiences – one which to me still often can feel both inspiring and disappointing, deliberative and impulsive, contradictory, exciting and full of possibility, all in the space of an ordinary Monday morning.

To read the articles featured in the Special Report, follow the links provided below. Also, an audio interview with Geddes is available here. And please, let me know what you think by leaving a comment below!

The price of freedom
The monolithic ANC
Colour me South African
Jobless growth
A new kind of inequality
Corruption in South Africa
South Africa’s great scourges
Last in class
Don’t get ill
Still everything to play for
Sources and acknowledgments


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One Response to “South Africa: “rainbow miracle” or “mired in decay”?”

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It is the complexity of South Africa that makes it so difficult to understand it. The seemingly polarised society in South Africa opens a variety of possibilities to everyone to just comment and present issues in a simple way: black and white, rich and poor, mountain and ocean, rural and urban. Maybe it is too complex and too diverse. The average media but also many non-South Africans abroad love to simplify challenges of South African. For example, if the matter of crime in South Africa is simplified to only statistics, one has great sensational stories to tell. Statistics and data can be used in many ways to manipulate your reports and make it as sensational as possible.
I think South Africa is too complex for the Western World in many aspects. The depth of understanding inter-race relations in South Africa is a task on its own because South Africa has White, African, Coloured, Asian, Indian, Chinese and so called ‘other’ as a category for its people inherited by the Apartheid system AND has then to also deal with the mix of people and nationalities visiting, studying, living working as non-South African citizens in the country.
South Africa is in many aspects fascinating in sad and joyful ways. Now, before the World Cup all these crews of journalists arrive in South Africa and would like to quickly get a glimpse of what South Africa is really about and broadcast it in their countries.
Many institutions are very much interested in assisting and supporting local and foreign journalist with time, data, material and setting up of interesting interviews. It is therefore very disappointing and discouraging if these efforts are not appreciated and just taken as a free ticket by the media.

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