World Cup and South Africa’s Unmet Goals

EDITOR’S NOTE: The 2010 FIFA World Cup gives South Africa a chance to take pride in its vibrant democracy and its economic and social achievements. Once the football tournament is over, the country must confront its growing problems of corruption, inequality and poverty, writes Princeton N. Lyman, adjunct senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. A few excerpts:

Fifteen years ago, South Africa hosted the Rugby World Cup. As depicted in the recent movie Invictus, it came in the glow of South Africa’s stunningly peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy, with the almost mythical figure of Nelson Mandela, as the recently elected president, deciding to use the sporting event to help mold a new non-racial South Africa. In 2010, South Africa hosts the world’s largest sporting event, the FIFA World Cup. The country will once again be on the world stage; it can boast of a still vibrant democracy and considerable economic and social achievements. But it also exhibits growing problems of corruption and inequality and stubborn levels of poverty among the majority black population.

Corruption and inequality

With all this to its credit, there are emerging cracks in the political system and serious economic challenges. One party, the African National Congress (ANC), dominates. It has held close to a two-thirds majority in the parliament since 1994 and controls government in all but one province. In that environment, the idealism that so burned in the eyes of liberation figures has given way to fairly widespread corruption at national and local levels and a cronyism between party leaders and newly enriched black business elite that has tarnished the ANC’s image.

There have been no serious investigations of corruption by the parliament, and party members who have tried to do so have been isolated. The current president, Jacob Zuma, had a charge of corruption against him dropped under political pressure from his supporters, and Zuma’s appointments to the judiciary and of a new national prosecutor have raised serious concerns over the continued independence of both institutions.

Once the Cup is over, South Africa must confront the issues that plague its political system and rise to the challenges of its still struggling economy.

When the World Cup opens, the world will see much of what South Africa is rightly proud; gleaming, modern cities, buttressed by vast new infrastructure built in advance of the World Cup; impressive members of all races leading government, corporations, and civil society institutions; a wonderfully vibrant society with musical and artistic talents of universal appeal; and a still strong spirit of non-racial democracy that was the heart of the Mandela legacy and which is embraced by virtually all South Africans today. It is the strongest economy in Africa, an important member of the G20, and the hope of all who remember the dream of 1994. Once the Cup is over, however, South Africa must confront the issues that plague its political system and rise to the challenges of its still struggling economy.

Re-published with permission by the Council on Foreign Relations. Visit the original article.

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