Prior to 1994, many anti-apartheid activists had supported a boycott on South African sports as a tool of the anti-apartheid movement, infuriating Afrikaners. When the Springboks toured New Zealand in 1981, for example, many New Zealanders protested. This inspired activists to pressure New Zealand to cancel plans to play in South Africa, a campaign that prevailed in 1985. An international boycott of South African rugby began shortly thereafter.
Mandela, who needed the support of Afrikaners as he prepared to negotiate with de Klerk, saw an opportunity. He decided that bringing an end to the Springboks rugby boycott would help with his larger project. The South African team once again faced New Zealand in August 1992. Although the stadium had prohibited apartheid symbols at the game, the national anthem, “Die Stem,” seen by many black South Africans as another symbol of apartheid, was boisterously sung and the old flags were waved. Mandela, however, did not give up hope that sports could be used to help bring South Africa’s people together. In June 1994, with the Rugby World Cup scheduled to begin the following May, Mandela met with Francois Pienaar, the Springboks’ captain, to convey his determination to do all he could to help bring the trophy home. After the meeting, Pienaar and his teammates were convinced that one thing they could do to help build bridges was to learn the new South African national anthem, “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika.” Pienaar recalls, “As a matter of historical fact, the Springboks weren’t reluctantly forced to sing the new anthem, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, with the Xhosa words . . . It was something we badly wanted to do ourselves and we organised our own singing lessons before the World Cup. I loved singing it—what an anthem—though I was so emotional in the final I just couldn’t get any words out and had to bite my lip hard to stop cracking up.”
Also symbolic of growing tolerance was the song “Shosholoza,” translated as “make way,” “move forward,” or “travel fast,” which was originally sung by the black migrant workers who worked in the gold mines around Johannesburg. It was the longtime anthem at soccer matches, where spectators were mostly black, but was adopted as the new Rugby World Cup song.
Before the first match of the 1995 Rugby World Cup in Cape Town, Mandela made a surprise visit to the startled Springboks team. He explained to them the great service they would be doing for their country by promoting unity. When he finished, the players offered Mandela a green Springboks cap, which he immediately put on. Pienaar later recalled how, at that moment, Mandela won the team’s hearts. In the match, the Springboks were unbeatable: first they overwhelmed the reigning champions, Australia, and then they beat Canada and then France in the semifinal. On the day of the final against New Zealand, Mandela telephoned Pienaar to wish the Springboks good luck. The green jersey and cap that Mandela decided to wear that day, for so long closely associated with apartheid, now symbolized a bond between white and black South Africans.
Only a year after assuming office, Mandela stepped onto the Ellis Park Stadium field before a hushed crowd. As the players prepared to run down the tunnel to the field, they could hear the largely Afrikaner crowd slowly begin to chant and eventually erupt into deafening cheers. The former captain of the Springboks described the scene that greeted him:
I walked out into this bright, harsh winter sunlight and at first I could not make out what was going on, what the people were chanting. Then I made out the words. This crowd of white people, of Afrikaners, as one man, as one nation, they were chanting, ‘Nel-son! Nel-son! Nel-son!’ Over and over . . . and, well, it was just . . . I don’t think I’ll ever experience a moment like that again. It was a moment of magic, a moment of wonder. It was the moment I realised that there really was a chance this country could work.
Kobie Coetsee, minister of justice and prisons, later said, “It was the moment when my people, his adversaries, embraced Mandela.”
Two hours later, with a word of gratitude, saying, “Thank you for what you have done for our country,” Mandela proudly shook Pienaar’s hand and handed him the trophy, sealing a bond between white and black South Africans. The Springboks captain is said to have replied, “No, Mr. President. Thank you for what you have done.” Coming at the start of an era in which the country would be seeking some shared sense of national identity—a unique and ongoing challenge, as discussed in the reading Creating a Shared Identity for a Democratic South Africa—such a show of unity carried particular weight.
Apartheid left a particularly challenging legacy of vast economic gaps between the historically white rich and the mostly black poor. At the most fundamental level, apartheid was a system designed to protect the economic interests of whites and subsidize their lifestyle by limiting competition and suppressing the wages of black South Africans. Government services for whites were extensive, while those for blacks were quite limited. While whites received free education in excellent government schools and world-class healthcare in government hospitals, expenditures on education and health for black South Africans was minimal, resulting in poor schools and substandard healthcare.
As discussed in Chapter 3, South Africa’s political transition was negotiated on the central compromise that it include an agreement to allow whites to maintain their economic position. The National Party was willing to transfer political power to the majority only if whites were allowed to retain control of their land and industries. Some critics of this compromise have argued that the failure to confront the economic consequences of white domination has meant that the transition was only a political one and ultimately failed to end the apartheid economic system. Steven Friedman, a white South African journalist and scholar, later wrote, “While there is no doubting the profound changes which the end of apartheid has produced, it could well be argued that . . . the transition did not encompass the fundamental shift in social and economic power relations which the end of apartheid was meant to produce.”
The economic alternatives available to the ANC were limited not simply by the negotiated settlement but also by domestic and international economic constraints. Levying too steep of a tax on the rich population would predictably have driven them to move their wealth outside of South Africa, undermining the economy. The ANC was further constrained by the necessity of attracting critical foreign investment. South Africa shifted to majority rule at a time when the concept of “neoliberal” economics was at its height internationally. Neoliberalism holds that economies do best when the role of government in the economy is limited. Advocates of neoliberalism argue for eliminating restrictions on imports, opening the economy up to international investment, and cutting back on social services. The new ANC-led government thus faced considerable international pressure to limit government spending at the very time when the new leaders were hoping to vastly expand the provision of services to the country’s poor.
In 1994, the ANC proposed its first economic policy, called the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). This policy focused on trying to redistribute wealth to the country’s poor, particularly through building infrastructure—providing housing, water, electricity, schools, and hospitals. Yet the success of RDP was limited by budget constraints; the regime did not raise the money that it needed to follow through on its promises. In 1996, RDP was replaced by a new policy: Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR). Although the name included the word “redistribution,” GEAR was in fact a more neoliberal economic program focused primarily on attracting international investment and expanding the South African economy, in the belief that economic growth would ultimately benefit all South Africans. The government continued to invest in developing the infrastructure, but its main focus was on economic growth.
While the South African economy has experienced growth and policies have had some success in reducing poverty, the gap between the rich and poor has actually increased. The economic gap continues to fall largely along racial lines. Scholar Elke Zuern writes:
The World Bank reported . . . that the top 10 percent of the population receives 58 percent of the country’s income, while the bottom 50 percent receives less than 8 percent. . . . From 1995 to 2008, white mean per capita income grew over 80 percent, while African income grew by less than 40 percent. Poverty remains overwhelmingly black: In the poorest quintile of households, 95 percent are Africans. Members of this segment of the population struggle to feed their families, allocating more than half of their total expenditure just to food. At the other end of the scale, almost half of the wealthiest 20 percent of households are white, even though whites make up less than 10 percent of the total population.
Affirmative action policies have helped to open up employment opportunities for Africans, “coloureds,” and Indians, but these policies have above all benefited those with higher education, who have taken over many government jobs and have gained opportunities as doctors, lawyers, and teachers. The policy of Black Economic Empowerment, adopted by the government in 2007, encouraged businesses to open up opportunities for investment by members of formerly disadvantaged groups. Again, however, these policies primarily helped those who already had some means; the poorest black South Africans did not have the capital to invest in businesses. With legal segregation eliminated, many of the Africans, Indians, and coloureds who could afford to do so moved into formerly white neighborhoods. Today, white South Africans remain the wealthiest population and the poorest are overwhelmingly black South Africans.
As a result of the economic polarization there, writer and journalist Hein Marais portrays South Africa as a “two-nation society,” where a wealthy nation and a poor nation exist together side by side in the same territory.
Article 29 of the 1996 constitution of the Republic of South Africa declared that “everyone has the right to a basic education” and that schools could no longer discriminate on the grounds of race. The new democracy was determined to go far beyond the bare-bones, far-too-basic schooling that black South Africans had long received. Education had been one of the tools of apartheid, with unequal schools teaching a curriculum that supported the policies and historical narratives of white supremacy. While the central government had previously determined what type of curriculum and what language of instruction would prevail in all of the nation’s schools, under the new constitution, those questions would be determined by local considerations.
Still, a massive centralized apparatus—divided in 2009 into a Department of Basic Education and a Department of Higher Education and Training—came to sit atop nine provincial offices of education; education now receives a larger slice of the national budget than does any other sector.
While education has seen improvement in some areas, it remains one of the great challenges faced by the government. To undo the damage done by apartheid to the educational system, teachers would need more than money. They would need improved school buildings, new curricula, and better training, as great gaps exist between the facilities serving the rich and the poor. As a senior lecturer at the University of South Africa pointed out, “Almost 80% of schools in the black townships in rural and farm areas have neither basic infrastructure, such as decent classrooms and libraries, nor basic services including clean running water and electricity. They don’t have the required number of qualified teachers or functioning school governing bodies. They report pass rates of less than 30% on required school exit exams. Media reports have highlighted the plight of primary school children who were learning under trees in rural areas of Limpopo province.”
Students in primary school continue to perform poorly on tests of literacy and numeracy, and far too many students lack textbooks. Only 12% of black South Africans go to college.
Since apartheid was dismantled, South Africa has seen at least four waves of curriculum reform. First, in keeping with the National Education Policy Investigation, offensive language and content—particularly concepts that reflected and promoted the racist ideas behind apartheid—were purged. Some critics argue that despite good intentions, this was at best a halfhearted effort aimed at furthering reconciliation. Then, during the late 1990s, “values” became the key term, and reformers looked for ways to open the curriculum to include a reflection on ethics—ostensibly the basis of a true democracy.
In 1997, while the Truth and Reconciliation Commission continued its work, the Department of Education initiated a major curriculum reform called Curriculum 2005. While some lauded the efforts, critics now point to the short shrift given to history under this plan, and some decry the curriculum as “advocating collective amnesia” for the crimes of apartheid.
The appointment of Kader Asmal to the post of minister of education in 1999—a role he would hold until 2004—marked a break with precedent. Asmal had been involved in designing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and he had strong feelings about the need to come to grips with the past. Under Asmal, a working group from the Department of Education produced a report titled Manifesto on Values, Education and Democracy (2001). Among the principles underlined early in the report was “putting history back into the curriculum.” This was “essential in building the dignity of human values within an informed awareness of the past, preventing amnesia, checking triumphalism,” and more.
The education department set up a specific Race and Values Directorate whose task was to ensure that the curriculum and classrooms became spaces where values and democratic citizenship were addressed. The Manifesto on Values, Education and Democracy shaped the Revised National Curriculum Statement that began to be rolled out in schools across the country in 2003. Four years later, Johan Wassermann, the head of the Department of History and Social Studies Education at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, lauded the new content in history books for including “a range of different voices that were silenced in the past.” He believed that the new curriculum would provide students with the opportunity to “see the world through the eyes of someone else. What does it mean to have been a policeman and also a protester during the 1976 Soweto uprising? You are attempting to understand, as opposed to saying that this side is bad and that side is good.”
These lessons are part of the ongoing challenge for nations in facing the most difficult moments of their histories—lessons that are both more urgent and, in some ways, more difficult in countries where the wounds of the past are still fresh. For a sense of how South Africans discuss educational and other forms of inequality, see the Antjie Krog reading, Overcoming the Past and Becoming a Single Nation.