Soccer Hype Hid Flaws of New South Africa
For release Tuesday noon July 13 and thereafter (539 words)
Viewers of the World Cup finals last weekend were treated to the pageantry of the “beautiful game” but little of the reality of post-Apartheid South Africa. That is unfortunate, for it includes important lesson for the rest of the world.
Beginning with the obvious, Apartheid was blatant and brutal. Black South Africans were held down by multiple levels of interlocking economic restrictions. Minimum-wage legislation was a particularly cynical example, written not to ensure a living wage but to price blacks out of the labor market. Additionally, labor unions and work permits (issued by white officials) limited opportunity.
Since Apartheid’s end, South Africa has cut its murder rate, made advances in child nutrition, doubled enrollment in public schools, provided welfare benefits to millions and begun the world’s largest HIV/AIDS treatment program.
Few know, however, decades after the installation of majority rule, that new laws intended to correct injustices between races are crippling the nation’s hope of prosperity. In fact, South Africa today is sad proof that skewing markets to favor a particular group of people, however wronged in the past, can have disastrous economic consequences.
South Africa’s average life expectancy has decreased from 62 years in the 1990s to 47 years. Over half the nation is impoverished and lacks access to electricity or heat. The country is experiencing the world’s highest unemployment rate (25 percent).
So if not Apartheid, what’s holding down South Africa, particularly its black majority?
First, there is widespread government corruption. Black South Africans are given government jobs regardless of qualification. Capable white citizens flee, contributing to the drop in national productivity. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal made ominous mention of possible violence against the makwerekwere — slang for outsiders, immigrants from neighboring African countries.
Second, there is health care. Even the South African minister of health describes the public hospitals as “deathtraps” — dirty, overcrowded, inadequately supplied and poorly staffed. That is said as the government shells out over 3.7 percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product for the health-care system.
It is not surprising, then, that many medical professionals choose to work for the private sector while many families choose to pay substantially more for private care.
And there is public education. If better schools had been provided to post-Apartheid black citizens, productivity levels may not have dropped so drastically. Those public schools accessible to impoverished blacks today are the same inferior schools that were once “all black” during the Apartheid era. (In 1989, for instance, the pass rate at the black schools was 41 percent compared with 96 percent at all-white institutions).
In an attempt to make up for past injustices, South African universities now make exceptions for disadvantaged black students, lowering admission and other standards. The quality of education is thereby compromised.
This has a trickle-down effect upon productivity levels in South African industry. In fact, private schools are offering such a better education that even poorer families pass up the free public schools to give their child an advantage finding a job.
South Africa, beyond the lights and spectacle of the World Cup stadiums, is a tragic lesson being learned for a second time. Government interference to advance a particular group — white or black, either to assert supremacy or as an attempt to rectify a past wrong — has severe consequences.
Charity Mansfield, Russiaville, is an undergraduate studying economics and law at Ball State University and the winner of its 2010 Koch Foundation competition. She wrote this for the Indiana Policy Review Foundation.
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“Hold your nose: The Smell of Corruption.” The Economist, June, 2010.
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