William F. O'Brien
Against the Grain
Douglas Foster is an American journalist who lived in South Africa for eight years after Nelson Mandela left the presidency of that country in 1999. He has written a book titled “After Mandela, The Struggle For Freedom In Post-Apartheid South Africa” in which he documents the problems that nation has confronted that has made it difficult for its post Mandela leaders to improve the lives of all of its people. Those dilemmas include widespread poverty and unemployment among black and mixed race citizens as well as an AIDS epidemic that has resulted in the premature deaths of thousands of South African.
Crime also is a problem in South Africa, and Foster reports on how people of all races there have been assaulted and robbed by criminals. That nation has been ruled by the African National Congress, which is known by the acronym “ANC” since the first all-race election was held there in 1994, and after Mandela left office that party selected his deputy president, Thabo Mbeki, to succeed him. Foster credits Mbeki for his free market economic policies that led to sustained economic growth in South Africa and also for his black empowerment programs that helped to create a new black middle class.
But the author castigates Mbeki for the stance he initially took regarding AIDS. Mbeki denied the existence of that malady for some time, and refused to permit the distribution of antiretroviral drugs that could have saved the lives of many of his people. Mbeki created a rift within the ANC when he fired his long-term friend and deputy president Jacob Zuma in response to allegations that Zuma had taken bribes from European firms that wished to sell military equipment to South Africa. Zuma rallied his supporters within the ANC and Mbeki was forced from office and Zuma succeeded him.
Foster details how Zuma, who remains South Africa’s chief executive today, engaged in a variety of questionable arrangements with wealthy businessmen that have allowed him and his large family to live in luxury despite his modest government salary. But the author also makes clear that the South African president has reached out to all of the different racial and ethnic groups of that nation and also has been an ally of the U.S. on many international issues. Foster was in South Africa in 2010 when that nation hosted the Soccer World Cup, and he describes how that experience brought all South Africans together in a spirit of national pride.
He recounts how shortly after taking office Nelson Mandela attended a rugby tournament in which the South African team, the Springboks, played. Rugby is a sport that is played primarily by whites in that nation, and when the Springbok team won the tournament Mandela came onto the field when the trophy was presented to them wearing a Springbok jersey and the white spectators began to chant his name. That event inspired the film “Invictus,” and Foster quotes Mandela as saying at that time that “Sport has the power to change the world. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial boundaries.”
And the truth of that observation is evident to anyone who has attended an Oklahoma City Thunder basketball game. The author reports that when he attended World Cup games he was embraced by South Africans of all races who thanked him for coming. And despite the problems that confront South Africa, the author believes that it has a bright future as a multi-racial democracy and that it will contribute to the development of the rest of sub-Saharan Africa in the years to come.
WILLIAM F. O’BRIEN is an Oklahoma City attorney.