SOUTH AFRICA: Twelve years after Apartheid
Thomas Cromwell

South Africa’s ambassador to Washington, Barbara Joyce Mosima Masekela, is passionate about her country. Having spent many years as an activist in the African National Congress, headed for decades by Nelson Mandela, she is deeply committed to the future of her country and determined that her government’s policies be understood correctly.

In a recent interview with DiplomaticTraffic.com, Ambassador Masekela addressed a number of questions about the progress South Africa has made since the end of Apartheid, as well as her country’s role in Africa and its progress in fighting poverty, HIV/AIDS and other challenges.

DT:   April 27 marked the 12th anniversary since the end of Apartheid. Please reflect on what has transpired in that period.

Amb. Masekela: Freedom, stable democracy, growing economy, gender equality, a rapidly expanding black middle class and great strides in the socio-economic uplifting of previously disadvantaged South Africans (getting housing, running water, education, health care, etc).

DT:  For South Africa, ending Apartheid meant sweeping political changes and the rise to power of blacks. The whites were apprehensive, but most seem to have stayed and prospered, unlike in Zimbabwe. Why is that?

Amb. Masekela: Each country’s situation is unique, and South Africa and Zimbabwe are vastly different. First, South Africa was the last country in Africa to be liberated in accordance with the OAU’s goal of decolonization. As one country after another got its independence, colonists moved south, and to Europe. You may want to recall that the bulk of South African whites, the Afrikaaners, have long severed ties with their European “mother state”, perhaps in the same way as the Americans have. They remained against policy to return at some point. Free Burgers even rebelled against the Dutch government. In many African countries at independence you found a situation where, for instance, you had a handful of doctors, engineers etc.

In South Africa there was, and still is, a lot at stake for everybody, and they had to cooperate. Our Constitution, and the Freedom Charter before that, declared that South Africa belongs to all, united in our diversity. We identified right at the outset that Nation building and reconciliation are key preconditions for stability and precursor to progress. We had to create a climate which, by and large, gives all a place in the sun. I would imagine that this is what led to South Africa avoiding the bloodbath that some skeptics had predicted, as all groups, not only whites, felt comfortable that there is a place for them as well.

Nelson Mandela said at the inauguration in 1994 that, “We enter a covenant that shall build a society in which all South Africans, both Black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world. Never, never, and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by the other, and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world.”

The write Alister Sparks, in his Tomorrow is Another Country, gives ten reasons why South Africa achieved a remarkably peaceful transition and will not slide into disaster:

• Because we were the last African country to end colonial rule, we learnt from the mistakes and success of others;

• Black and white South Africans may still be divided but they share a strong mutual commitment to South Africa;

• The essential pragmatism of the ANC leadership and its unassailable credibility in the Black population should enable it to carry its policies through the crisis of expectations;

• That the ANC was an inclusive, ‘broad church’ containing many different viewpoints ensures that within its own structures all issues are extensively debated. This has inculcated a democratic culture;

• The culture of negotiations that developed during four years of hard bargaining at every level of society, from multiparty conventions that negotiated the constitution, to segregated sports bodies that negotiated unification, etc.;

• The constitution that was adopted itself has the singular merit of being a contract born out of a spirit of compromise between major representatives of all South Africans;

• The strength of South Africa’s civil institutions, from independent media, to the judiciary, to strong labor, business, professional, church, sports, student, civic associations, etc.

• South Africa is by far the most developed country in Africa, and the only one that has undergone a full-blown industrial revolution, which has a sophisticated infrastructure, and whose people are, accordingly, at a (relatively higher) level of development.

Many countries had several of these features, but none had the mix and depth we had in South Africa. Due to different historical factors, South Africa and Zimbabwe took different trajectories

DT:  What are South Africa’s underlying strengths?

Amb. Masekela:

• South Africa enjoys a durable judiciary in which the rights of the victim and perpetrator are respected, within the context of a due process of law.

• South Africa continues to enjoy a relatively stable exchange rate, compared to other developing countries of equal size and challenges.

• In a recent article in ‘The Economist’, SA was listed as one of the few countries today whose economy has proven durable at a time when the world showed significant signs of a downswing.

• After September 11, the Annual Tourism Survey report of 2002 and many airline carriers servicing the African market confirmed that South Africa became the fastest growing tourism destination in the world.

• South Africa historically enjoys a vibrant and active civil society.

• South Africa is the only country with a very diverse and protected flora and fauna and is host to some of the world’s most endangered species such as the African Rhino.

• South Africa offers an excellent travel and leisure infrastructure.

• Most important, South Africa provides a multitude of sights and sounds as well as a hospitable, warm and friendly people, our most important asset.

DT:  What are its weaknesses and challenges?

Amb. Masekela: South Africa faces a number of challenges:

• Unemployment
• Poverty alleviation
• Two economies (official and gray)
• HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases 
• Quality education to ensure a skilled workforce  
• The capacity of local governments to deliver services

DT:  What role does South Africa play in Africa as a whole?

Amb. Masekela:

• As an African country, our success is linked to the success of the African continent.

• Through the African Union, South Africa seeks to promote democracy, peace and security throughout Africa.

• We have deployed over 4000 troops under the auspices of the AU/UN in countries like the DRC, Burundi, Sudan, etc.

• We have also played the role of mediator in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Great Lakes) peace process, Burundi peace process and the Ivory Coast peace process.

• South Africa’s deep involvement in Africa is underpinned by its prioritization of the continent as a centerpiece of its foreign policy.

DT:  What can the rest of Africa learn from South Africa’s economic success?

Amb. Masekela: Africa is currently in the process of countries learning from one another.  We are drawing on each other’s experiences in determining the best approach towards addressing challenges that we may have. This is a 2-way process of mutual learning and sharing of experiences. Perhaps the best example of this is the AU’s African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM). The purpose of the peer review mechanism is to facilitate adoption of policies, standards and practices that promote political stability, growth and sustainable development, and which will, we hope, accelerate the continent's economic integration through the sharing of experience and the reinforcement of best practices. Participation in the system is voluntary, with 26 countries having acceded to the program. South Africa has applied to be reviewed. The point is to encourage African countries to plan a way forward for themselves and to implement their plans.

On the economic front, we have been very successful in turning our economy around from one of stagnation in 1994 to growth of some 5% last year; to taming inflation and bringing down interest rates to their lowest level in a quarter of a century. We did this through the adoption of difficult but necessary macro-economic policies which are now bearing fruit. However, the important point to make is that it was the policies which we determined were necessary for us at the time, and appropriate in laying the foundation for good economic management and performance necessary to grow the economy and to create a social net necessary to address the socio-economic legacy of Apartheid. These were not prescribed to us. 

Economic situations differ from country to country, as well as the necessary remedies needed to grow and develop economies in Africa. Countries need to decide for themselves on the specific measures that are needed to address their particular situations and circumstances. However, there are basic principles of good economic management and governance that we all agree on as necessary to growing and developing our economies, and these are contained in the socio-economic development program of the AU, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). We all agree on this, and we are working with our partners in Africa and the developed world to support this program. However, more needs to be done by both sides in consolidating economic stability within Africa, and mobilizing the resources in the developed world necessary to capacitate and invest in these positive developments. 

DT:  How is the government tackling continued widespread poverty (50%) and unemployment (25%)?

Amb. Masekela: I am pleased that we now have a larger volume of resources to meet the needs of the people and accelerate the rate of growth and development of our economy.   We are seeking to halve poverty and unemployment by 2014. To achieve this, we aim to achieve sustained growth of 4.5% up to 2009, and at more than 6% after 2010. We are on a firm course to achieve this, and build on the substantial progress that we have already made.   

Since 1994, 1.6 million houses were built. Nine million people now have access to water. Four million were connected to the electricity grid, and 6.5 million now have access to sanitation. Seven and a half million acres of land were redistributed, benefiting 700,000 families. Some 4.5 million children started getting free school meals. We are committed to protecting the most vulnerable through income assistance and support through the grant system. This helps reduce poverty and improve the standard of living of the poor. For example, the South Africa Social Security Agency has been established to make the payments of social grants more efficient and predictable, to ensure that the grants reach those who need them most. This year we expect the number who receive social grants to increase to 11 million, and this year’s budget provides for an increase in grants, for example, to the aged and child-support payments that top inflation, giving recipients a real income increase. The improvement in local service delivery is also being addressed, and the budget prioritizes municipal services and community infrastructure. Theses services will include the improvement in basic municipal infrastructure, the provision of water and sanitation, building houses, and the upgrading of informal settlements.

We must ensure that all South Africans share in and benefit from our economic success. Therefore, there will be much greater investment in and focus on areas such as education and technical training (to help ease constraints on growth due to skills shortages); rural development; empowering women and youth; and improving the health system. For example, we have committed significant resources to transforming the public health sector, in particular in the fight against HIV and AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis. The comprehensive plan on management, care and treatment of HIV and AIDS is designed to be sustainable. At the end of 2005, the number of people started on antiretroviral therapy at 229 sites countrywide was 118,000. And through 2007, we have allocated $550 million just for the purchase of the drugs, which are increasingly manufactured locally. 

We have developed a broad-based black economic empowerment program. The purpose is to ensure that the previously disadvantaged and marginalized, including women, are given access to opportunities to develop their skills, enter management positions in companies, start and grow businesses, become suppliers to large companies and government, and in certain sectors buy equity in companies. We are implementing it pragmatically in line with the imperatives of attracting new investment and creating jobs.

In developing the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa (ASGI-SA), the government consulted widely with experts in its departments, in business, industry and labor, and with international specialists. The conclusion was that interventions to accelerate growth in a shared manner must target constraints unique to South Africa's economy and government. Six binding constraints have been identified: 

• The overvaluation and volatility of South Africa's currency.
• An inadequate national infrastructure.
• A shortage of skilled labor.
• Barriers to entry, limits to competition and limited new investment opportunities.
• A cumbersome regulatory environment.
• Deficiencies in state organization, capacity and leadership.

To counter these six constraints, ASGI-SA initiatives fall into six broad categories:

• A massive investment in infrastructure ($60 billion)
• Targeting economic sectors with good growth potential, such as Business Outsourcing Processes (BPO) and Tourism.
• Developing the skills of South Africans, and harnessing the skills already there.
• Building up small businesses to bridge the gap between the formal and informal economies.
• Beefing up public administration.
• Creating a macroeconomic environment more conducive to economic growth.

DT:  How effective is the government’s anti-HIV/AIDS program?

Amb. Masekela: Since 1994, the government has developed a comprehensive response to HIV and AIDS, using international experience as a guide. The huge increase in special budgets for HIV, AIDS and TB reflects the government’s seriousness about the matter. Equally significant has been that partners in many sectors have taken up the HIV and AIDS challenge as their own. There has been debate and protest, but in the end we have a nation that is alert to the threat of HIV and AIDS and increasingly willing to act.

In November 2003, the Cabinet adopted a Comprehensive Care, Management and Treatment of HIV and AIDS Plan to complement and strengthen the HIV/AIDS & STD Strategic Plan for South Africa. The four key components of the Strategic Plan include prevention, treatment, care and support, research, monitoring and evaluation, and human and legal rights.

The prevention program includes life skills on HIV and AIDS education in both primary and secondary schools. This program is supported by development of age-appropriate learning and support materials, peer education training programs, the provision of care and support for affected and infected learners and educators, and the development of a program for deaf learners. Condom distribution is the largest program in the world, providing both male and female condoms. Provision of safe blood, is also included. The awareness and education program is being conducted under the slogan: “Khomanani – Caring together” and include door-to-door campaigns to encourage people to take the HIV test, which paves the way for home visits. There is also community sponsorship of drama and musical groups and media (TV, radio, booklets) programs.

The Comprehensive Plan has two main goals – to provide comprehensive care and treatment for people living with HIV and AIDS, and to help strengthen the country’s national health system. The key components include management and control of sexually transmitted infections (STI); expanding voluntary counseling and testing (VCT); expanding post-exposure prophylaxis services; expanding prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT); improving TB management; integrating traditional healers into the public health care system; expanding home based care; improving and expanding orphans and vulnerable children care and services; and providing antiretroviral treatment.

By end of March 2005, all 53 districts had a facility that provides comprehensive treatment for HIV and AIDS. The HIV prevention component has been strengthened; specifically on STI treatment and partner notification, and efforts are geared at stepping up the door-to-door mobilization. By the end of 2005, over 100,000 people were on treatment in the public sector.

The care and support component focuses on the integration with the community health worker program. There are 1700 projects nationally offering home-based care, a service critical to avoid situations where patients would develop drug resistance due to non-compliance. The treatment program includes improved follow-up and treatment of opportunistic infections, but it still needs improvement with regard to patient monitoring mechanisms. Drug procurement processes were successfully completed within the first year of implementation of the Comprehensive Plan. Good nutrition is promoted as part of the plan, through awareness and counseling on proper dietary requirements – food and multi-vitamins supplements, nutritional products and the national food security program.

The major challenge in the implementation of the Comprehensive Plan is the availability of laboratory facilities in under-served areas. The capacity of laboratory services for CD4 count and viral load tests exists in most urban areas.

Significant progress has been made with the training of all categories of health personnel required to implement the comprehensive plan. A great demand remains however for health personnel required to implement various aspects of the Comprehensive Plan.


Biography of Ambassador Barbara Masekela

Barbara Masekela was educated in South Africa, Zambia and the US. She has taught at Rutgers University, English Department for nine years until 1982.

She has spent most of her life as a political activist working with the ANC Observer Mission to the United Nations, in Zambia at the ANC Headquarters,

After Nelson Mandela was released, she became a member of the NEC of the ANC and later part of the negotiations commission.  She also served as Nelson Mandela’s Chief of Staff.

Appointed as Ambassador to France and UNESCO in 1995.  She was Executive Director for De Beers and served as director on the boards of Standard Bank of South Africa, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, the World Diamond Council and the International Marketing Council. She is also a trustee of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund and Nelson Mandela Foundation. 

After retirement in 2003 President Mbeki appointed Ms. Masekela, Ambassador to the United States of America in June 2003.

She has two sons, Mabusha and Selema.