Is South Africa in need of a second liberation?

Tapiwa Nyandoro

Some 20 or so years ago the Republic of South Africa became a new democracy on the one man, one vote principle. Its iconic first President of colour would have preferred going into retirement soon after leaving prison, but was persuaded to lead the ANC — South Africa’s iconic liberation movement — in the country’s first democratic elections.

The movement won the general elections and its Parliament sitting as an electoral college, elected Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, as its national president. A lawyer by profession, he had been in prison at Roben Island for more than 27 years.

He inherited unequal economic and social landscapes as far as races were concerned. The indigenous African was a third-class citizen in his own country, on his own continent. And the worst bit as in Zimbabwe, education, the best form of empowerment, and jobs, the second best form of empowerment, apart from perhaps inheritance, were rationed rather thinly in a misguided attempt to protect and reserve opportunities for white Africans.


As Frederick de Klerk — the last white South African President and possibly the greatest as well — would understand, this formula was both economically and morally wrong. Economic growth was sluggish and contribution from the potential huge intellectual talent, labour force and market in his country was being deliberately suppressed by the pervasive law of apartheid.

He set about dismantling it with help from the rest of the world. The rest as they say is history, but some are trying to rewrite it to suit their own costly agendas. Reverse racism, the type being popularised by a few opportunists in Zimbabwe, has had equally toxic effects to apartheid and/or the infamous Rhodesian Land Tenure Act. At the centre of this is poor human capital management complicated by poor race relations management.


President Robert Mugabe would want South Africa to undergo a second liberation — this time on accelerating economic emancipation for the majority. Mandela wouldn’t agree more, but it is perhaps on terminology and on how this could be achieved that the two icons would differ radically, and for a very simple reason. Mugabe’s presidency is confined by a straitjacket.
Mandela was too independent for that. Neither the apartheid regime nor ANC hooligans ever managed it. Until death, he was his own man and not a prisoner of some wayward special interests.

Human capital, be it black or white, has a value that society would have invested in its growth. Under apartheid in South Africa, as in Rhodesia, most of this capital was invested disproportionately in the white communities. In fact, to a large extent, there could have been overinvestment. This, of course, is a waste of scarce resources Southern Africa could scarcely afford, hence de Klerk and Ian Douglas Smith’s obliging actions, hastened obviously by wars of liberation.

Actuaries will give you the cost of human life given the data. A decade or so ago, an average passenger in a commercial plane was valued close to $1 million. Having been the beneficiaries of over-investment, most whites in Rhodesia and South Africa were in this category.

Even discounting by 75%, to eliminate children and poor “less valuable” whites, the 50 000 economically active upper class whites, out of a total of then a 250 000 whites, were alone worth close to $50 billion as a national asset, far much more than the $11 billion or so of land they had apportioned, unwisely, for themselves.

The same haemorrhage that came with their forced emigration continues as the black middle class packs its bags and departs for greener pastures. Zimbabwean policies have led to human capital flight from the country. American policies by contrast attracts the most refined, be it Chinese, Indian or African. Mandela would have known all about this. Mugabe’s school of hard knocks by now ought to have taught him the same.

Had Mandela and the ANC taken the route of destruction and ease virtue that Zanu PF and Mugabe have taken, the same misfortunes that have befallen Zimbabwe would have destroyed South Africa. Close to one in 10 South Africans are non indigenous, whereas the figure in Zimbabwe at independence was a more forgiving one in 28.

Actuaries too, will tell you that the average third world immigrant to the first world takes close to 30 years to break even in his/ her contribution to the economy of his new home. Thirty years, therefore, is not enough time for a discriminated population to catch up, en masse, on the standard of living of a previously privileged few. If the first generation of liberated people acquires housing stock and secondary education, as rapidly happened in Zimbabwe, then significant empowerment would have been achieved.

Of course, it is the nature of democracy that change, for its own sake, sometimes manifests itself in election outcomes, some of them unwise. As a result, this may slow economic growth or the enactment of prudent policies. Such fears, however, do not justify the self-destructive route Zimbabwe embarked on.

The old adage less haste, more speed applies also to economics and you only have to look at Zimbabwe’s ruined economy to prove it.
“It matters not how strait the Gate,How charged with punishment the Scroll,I am the master of my Fate; I am the Captain of my Soul”, Nelson Mandela wrote, defiantly, while in prison.

And here may lie the difference in the two icons: Mugabe may no longer be the master of his fate or the captain of his soul.
Not until the straitjacket is removed from the presidency. It is in Zimbabwe; a second liberation may be in order.

l Tapiwa Nyandoro can be contacted on or


Comments are closed.