“I was probably too optimistic on Nelson Mandela’s inauguration day,” reflects Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow for Africa Studies John Campbell in his new book, Morning in South Africa. “Nevertheless, more than twenty years into the new South Africa and following many subsequent visits, I am hopeful still while acknowledging the challenges still to be overcome.”
Under the scandal-prone Jacob Zuma administration, the country continues to be plagued by poverty, slow economic growth, and the lingering legacy of apartheid. However, “freedom of speech is absolute, the rule of law is established, the judiciary is independent, the political system is providing new options for the electorate, and the economy is largely market driven,” writes Campbell.
As counselor for political affairs at the U.S. embassies in Cape Town and Pretoria from 1993 to 1996, Campbell personally observed South Africa’s transition to nonracial democracy. Ever since, he has followed South Africa and Africa closely; from 2004 to 2007, he served as U.S. ambassador to Nigeria. He acknowledges that the history of apartheid hangs over South Africa and notes that voting behavior largely reflects racial identification. “The traditional racial hierarchy, with whites at the top and blacks at the bottom, largely remained in place,” he says, and “white capital, accumulated during the long years of white supremacy, was untouched.”
South Africa’s democracy, however, has been surprisingly adaptable since Mandela’s inauguration, and Campbell notes that the country’s institutions and government now reflect its predominately black demography. For example, the South African Institute of Race Relations’ 2016 survey found that 75.8 percent of all police officers are black. Campbell also argues that South Africa’s institutions remain strong, despite the current malaise he attributes to the corrupt Zuma regime. “The gloom, the extent of which is new, owes much to the slow economic recovery from the worldwide slump of 2008 and to discontent with Jacob Zuma’s style of governance,” he says.
Campbell also considers relations between the United States and South Africa, both racially diverse democracies. “American engagement with Africa is usually episodic and short-lived, reflecting the constricted universe of shared political and economic interests,” he writes. On the South African side, there are reservations about the Reagan administration’s policy of “constructive engagement” with the apartheid regime, and perceptions of ongoing American racism. Despite his optimism about South Africa’s own future, Campbell expresses some skepticism about the prospects for closer ties between South Africa and the United States in the near future.
Read more about the book at www.cfr.org/morninginsouthafrica.
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