You are here:   Dispatches > Cyril Ramaphosa's poisoned chalice

This last is a great drama, for African nationalism seems incompatible with wildlife. Already African wildlife has been exterminated throughout north and west Africa and most of what remains is in the formerly white-ruled states — Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Namibia. Yet everywhere those remaining animals are under threat from poaching and explosive demographic growth. Although black politicians recognise in principle that wildlife preservation is vital to the tourist industry, it is noticeable that all the passionate wildlife activists — like the former South African cricketer, Mark Boucher — are white. For many whites the richness of Africa’s flora and fauna constitutes a principal reason for continuing to live there, though one cannot but suspect that some of this activism is a displacement activity.

It has, though, its larger significance. As Asia and Latin America (and some parts of the Middle East) climb out of poverty, Africa will soon no longer be able to console itself that it is part of the Third World: it will be the Third World. This is not just about being poor but about the persistence of pre-modern political structures and behaviour, with countries ravaged by war and tribalism, by terrorism and ruthless elites, often still imbued with antique ideologies as well as relentless cynicism. This is a continent where for every dollar of aid received, 63 cents finds its way back into (private) foreign bank accounts, and which holds the all-time record for the number of UN peace-keeping missions, all of which have to be funded from outside Africa. The great hope of Mandela’s South Africa was that it would be able to provide the continent with a model of humane politics and successful development. This promise has been almost completely squandered. The rest of the world could be forgiven if it simply walked away — as witness Barclays’ decision to exit Africa to concentrate better on the US.

But there is a sense in which the world can’t walk away. For a start, Africa is just so big — its area could encompass Western Europe, Britain, the US, China, Japan and New Zealand. This is also the continent which gave birth to the human race and where the world’s oldest people, the San, still live. All our DNA is traceable to here. This is, too, where all human language began. It is also the fastest-growing continent. Much of Europe, Russia and Japan are in steep demographic decline but Africa will add another billion people to its population by 2050 — making it the world’s fastest-growing market. Africa contains most of the world’s uncultivated arable land — which will all have to be cultivated by the time the world population peaks in 2055 at around 11 billion. It also contains a large proportion of all the Earth’s key raw materials. And, finally, it is Earth’s last remaining repository of some of the largest, most important and utterly magnificent life-forms: lions and a large number of other wild cats, elephants, rhinos, hippos, large gorillas and apes, giraffes, zebra, enormous numbers of buck and a huge variety of insect and reptile life. Humans everywhere tend to see these life-forms as connecting us back to a far earlier age when men lived as simple hunter-gatherers.

So, despite all the frustrations and false starts, the world’s engagement with Africa will continue. And while it does, South Africa will, inescapably, continue to play a key role as the continent’s most developed state. And it is this, finally, which gives Ramaphosa’s election its significance. South Africa’s early promise has certainly failed — but the worst has been avoided.
View Full Article
July 27th, 2018
8:07 PM
I regret things are worse than RWJ reports. The corruption and sheer incompetence at every level, has even led the majority of municipalities to be totally dysfunctional and bankrupt. Those residents up-to-date with their rates and taxes and utility bills often find the water or electricity cut off to the entire community because their local council hasn't paid for the electricity or water to the bulk supplier - but they collected the money from the residents which they have stolen or misappropriated. The money set aside for maintenance of infrastructure such as sewage works etc has 'vanished' and they then allow raw sewage to flow into the rivers causing major pollution, the fish and birds die and even the trees along the banks die (eg. Vaal river) Everybody suffers, Black, White, rich and poor. Cry the beloved country.

July 1st, 2018
12:07 PM
The SACP must be over the moon. Heroic effort brings great reward. Tough on the ordinary folk. 'Twas ever thus.

May 3rd, 2018
7:05 AM
I have never read a more accurate analysis of South Africa, and indeed, Africa as a whole. If a South African leader who can implement the structural changes required is not elected within the next five years, SA will be doomed to the same future as most other African countries, especially Zimbabwe. What a pity this will be.

Michael Coulter
April 19th, 2018
9:04 PM
Most insightful. Thanks for writing this.

April 19th, 2018
8:04 AM
In response to "Anonymous" 16 April 9.04 "Apartheid regime caused a much greater genocide. Its rule resulted in millions of black South Africans, mainly infants and children, dying of starvation because they were deprived of food" I would dearly like to know where and when these death occurred

Keith Phillips
April 19th, 2018
3:04 AM
I sadden at this having experienced the Zimbabwean collapse. I fear that the starvation that is coming to SA will eclipse anything that has happened in the past as the outflow of capital and capability in the sector collapses food production. Forget the past. Rescue the future.

Rob Bass
April 18th, 2018
5:04 AM
RW Johnson has summarised the South African situation perfectly. It's impossible for me to challenge any one of his statements. Life for all SA inhabitants, except the black elite, will become more difficult in future. Dependent upon one's age & energy level, it is either a country with unbounded opportunity or one from which those capable should emigrate sooner rather than later.

April 17th, 2018
4:04 PM
Very balanced but not touching on Malena and his extremists. On land expropriation : This will certainly lead to famine as it has done in the rest of Africa. When you combine that with the well meaning Australians that want to speed up visas for white South African farmers, it certainly will happen. HOWEVER, the well meaning Australians( I love them) should keep in mind that this will just antagonize the SA Government and they now “have to be right” and stick to their policies just as the Apartheid regime did when sanctions were imposed. Angry people do not make sane decisions. Angry people break and destroy without pain initially to themselves. Have you ever hurt yourself in a moment of anger?....Did you feel it? Afterwards, possibly when you saw the blood! What we need is diplomacy and communication, showing respect and gradually educating so that we can arrive at a common, sane, reality. Don’t vent your anger and antagonize. It serves no purpose. And. Also, don’t antagonize inderctly by offering help via the media. Wage a private war in private and keep the sensationalist media out of it, please! P.B.

April 16th, 2018
9:04 PM
While Thabo Mbeki deprived black South Africans of retroviral drugs the Apartheid regime caused a much greater genocide. Its rule resulted in millions of black South Africans, mainly infants and children, dying of starvation because they were deprived of food.

April 13th, 2018
3:04 PM
There is much truth in this piece but it gives white South Africans a free pass.They have white Messiah Syndrome deeply embedded—most senior positions in companies are held by whites not because they are more competent but because most whites have refused to change and embrace meritocracy. The decisions are made in secret white laager committees—so nothing has changed from Johan Anthoniszoon "Jan" van Riebeeck’s days.

Post your comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
More Dispatches
Popular Standpoint topics