South African Elections
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
MARGARET WARNER: For perspective on today’s elections, we turn to Ambassador Sheila Sisulu, South Africa’s new ambassador to the United States; Rich Mkhondo, the U.S. correspondent for Independent Newspapers of South Africa; John Chettle, an international trade lawyer in Washington, D.C., and a former director of the South Africa Foundation, a business group; and David Goodman, a freelance journalist and author of the newly-released book Fault Lines: Journeys into the New South Africa. Welcome all. Madame Ambassador, what is the latest on the election? We understand that the polling is taking longer than expected.
SHEILA SISULU: Yes. It seems that people left it too late in some places, and in other places, there were more people voting than anticipated. So on the one hand, there was underestimation, even if there had been an indication that people come out in large numbers, but it has happened now is that the law does allow for people who are at the polling station by the time of closing to continue to vote until all the people who were there — by the time they close — have voted.
MARGARET WARNER: And when do you expect final results?
SHEILA SISULU: The final results should be out by Friday, which would probably be Thursday night here. We are expecting that tomorrow morning in the U.S. there should be 75 percent of the results out.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, Rich Mkhondo, even though there were close to a dozen parties competing, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that the ANC is going to be the big winner. Why is that? Why aren’t the elections more competitive?
RICH MKHONDO: I think the elections are competitive. It’s just that we South Africans are still in some kind of liberation mode. I was speaking to a friend of mine yesterday about the very same question. And I said to him, “Why don’t you vote for the other party in case of the other one?” And he says to me, look, when I was struggling in the 60′s when I was arrested and I was targeted by the police, it was the ANC which supported me. No one else supported me. I don’t have a job now. I employ three people because I’m self-employed and he’s started a car wash company. But I’m happy with the ANC. I’m going to vote for them for the next four election, which means it will take about 20 years for him to change his life.
So I think that’s one of the reasons. But there are many other reasons — one of them being the fact that I think South Africans expected a lot from the ANC and they still expect a lot from the ANC. When people say to them, “Why don’t you vote for the national party or the democratic movement, which is the new party formed by Bantu Holomisa and others?” They will say, what have they done for them? That’s what my friend said yesterday. So it will take a long time for people to change. So opposition parties have to actually maybe start off fresh. I hear there’s going to be some kind of a summit of all opposition party after this election. Maybe from there will be a major another party. I don’t know.
MARGARET WARNER: What’s your view, John Chettle, on why the ANC is so dominant?
JOHN CHETTLE: I think Rich has got it right. I mean, they made the huge contribution to getting freedom and democracy in South Africa. And they’ve not done a bad job. They’ve actually delivered a lot of things that people needed — water connections, electricity connections, some housing, not as much as everybody wanted, but as much as perhaps could be legitimately expected.
MARGARET WARNER: David Goodman, the voting is also, however, expected to break down along racial lines is. That right?
DAVID GOODMAN: Right. And the ANC’s greatest support base obviously is still black South Africans.
MARGARET WARNER: Which we should say are, I think, 77 percent or so of the population?
DAVID GOODMAN: That’s right. In the era of Mandela, you know, one of the greatest accomplishments has been bridging the racial divide and bringing reconciliation across the racial divide. However, it’s really going to be — the test of Mbeki will really be whether he can bring that same reconciliation and bridging across the vast economic divide that still splits South Africa, the divide between rich and poor and unfortunately it is still the rich and poor divide is still one that is largely a white and black divide at once.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, now, I think his campaign slogan was a better life for all. How hard is it going to be to deliver on that?
DAVID GOODMAN: It’s been very mixed results at this point. Certainly change can be measured in the number of water taps and electricity and telephones that have been brought to the poorer areas of South Africa. It has certainly alleviated the hardships of poverty. Whether there can actually be opportunity created, and that is jobs, which really most black South Africans will tell you is their number one concern, that is what really remains as a challenge. In fact, South Africa has lost a half million jobs in the last five years, and Mbeki has really got turn that around to create opportunity to break out of poverty.
MARGARET WARNER: What do you see as the big obstacle, the biggest obstacle, Madame Ambassador, to delivering on this better life for all?
SHEILA SISULU: Well, to start with our macroeconomic policy, we’ve decided through it that we would deliver a better life for all on the basis of growth in the economy.
MARGARET WARNER: You mean rather than redistribution of wealth.
SHEILA SISULU: And rather than also borrowing or even printing money. And having pledged ourselves to go that route, the economy was knocked sideways by the global crisis, and therefore our growth was slowed down. We had to readjust our growth targets. And so that’s going to be the big challenge to in effect turn the economy around to growth — on a growth trajectory so we can then from that basis deliver a better life from all.
MARGARET WARNER: And why do you, John Chettle, think it’s been hard to do that so far?
JOHN CHETTLE: Well, I suppose there are a number of reasons. The first is that the level of schools is still comparatively low. And it’s going to take time for that to improve. The second is, of course, the government faced a very difficult situation when it got into power. I mean, the economy was not doing well. Sanctions had bitten. There was large unemployment — unemployment maybe as high as 40 percent. And when you think that at the height of the depression in the United States, unemployment was 25 percent, it’s an indication of just how difficult that problem is. So it’s going to take quite a long time to make the adjustments, to attract the overseas investment, although the government’s been certainly trying to do its best.
MARGARET WARNER: And your view, Rich Mkhondo, on why this economic divide remains so large? I think it’s 40 percent unemployment among black South Africans and, what, 4 percent among whites or mixed race.
RICH MKHONDO: Well, a combination of many factors, one of them being the leaders of apartheid, one of them being the question of education, skills, and many others. But I think to go back to what John has said, quite a lot has been achieved, although I think we still face the question that globally things are not very good. They might be very good in the U.S., but they’re not very good in South Africa and other countries like Asia where South Africa needs actually to get help, even from here.
MARGARET WARNER: You mean, in other words, South Africa is competing for financial investment from all over the world with all these other countries.
RICH MKHONDO: Yeah, yeah. Yes, indeed. Let me give you an example. I gave an example the other day that — let’s take the question of what the world — what the West is actually looking at. Whenever there is a problem, they actually go to help countries like Russia and even Kosovo at the moment. Actually, I’m very disturbed about what’s going on, because the concentration on Kosovo is actually taking attention to many other problems. There are many refugees in Africa, but the attention is not the same. One quick example: When there was a problem in Russia, it took them about two weeks to give Russia about $120 billion. It has taken them about three years to help Africa with about 10 percent of that money, $13 billion. Why such a discrepancy? So in other words, what I’m trying to say it’s the combination of many factors, internationally, locally, and South Africans themselves.
MARGARET WARNER: Now John Chettle, you talk to a lot of international business people, you help them and try to get them to invest in South Africa. What are you hearing? Why is South Africa not say more attractive when it’s competing against other places people could put their money?
JOHN CHETTLE: It’s doing a lot of the right things. It has been very stringent as far as spending is concerned.
MARGARET WARNER: That’s what the ambassador said.
JOHN CHETTLE: Trying to get the deficit down and so on. But the trouble is a lot of countries are also trying to do the same thing. And the United States, just to take one example, has this vast universe of countries all trying to do the same thing. And it can pick and choose. And so — and sad though it is, a lot of people’s attention is distracted elsewhere.
MARGARET WARNER: David Goodman, go back to the connection between the racial divide and the economic divide — because you wrote a long piece about this in the Washington Post on Sunday. And I think you said that you didn’t feel that the racial divide has really been bridged at all.
DAVID GOODMAN: Well, I do feel that there has been a great effort placed by President Mandela. One of his greatest accomplishments is certainly presiding over a peaceful transition to democracy. And without that peaceful transition, we wouldn’t be talking here today about the fine points of development. We’d be talking about a country that was barely hanging together. South Africa is certainly doing much better than that. But you know, one of the people I wrote about in my book is a woman who is a domestic worker and also a city councilor. And she is a councilor in the same communities where she cleans floors and homes. So here is the picture of a woman who has finally attained political power but still is poor, still lacks economic power, and this is a situation that many black South Africans find themselves in today. It’s a burning contradiction. And I think that, you know, the coming together of political power and a sense that blacks now have opportunities I think will go a great deal farther to healing racial wounds because you can’t simply just tell a poor person to reconcile their situation. You must give them opportunity.
MARGARET WARNER: Madame Ambassador, why do you think that as the barriers to political power have fallen, the barriers to other kinds of power in business and academia and even the media, I understand, have not fallen as fast?
SHEILA SISULU: Well, it’s been five years, and we’re working against backlogs of not only 50 years of apartheid, but actually 300 years of discrimination against black people. So there is that huge backlog that we’re working against to start with. And I think it’s important here to raise the fact that Deputy President Mbeki last year, almost six months or even eight months ago, raised this very issue in parliament and said the next challenge we have is to reconcile our two nations, one rich, one poor and black, one white. And beyond political reconciliation, emotional and social reconciliation we have to look towards economic reconciliation. Unfortunately when he raises these issues, then there is a cry about oh, he’s raising the race issue again. But the truth of the matter is, unless we, in fact, bridge that gap and present to the majority of people the fact that democracy also means a better quality of life rather than just economic power, then we might lose the gains that have been put forward by President Mbeki — I mean President Mandela. However, I think Deputy President Mbeki is astute, and I think he will be able to navigate this process in the way that he’s been described as someone who is persuasive and gets people to see a particular point of view – it will be a difficult process, but I think he’ll do it.
MARGARET WARNER: But the whites still basically — it has to be a persuasion; is that right — Rich Mkhondo, because the whites still really control, have the economic power?
RICH MKHONDO: That’s right.
MARGARET WARNER: Is there a lot of resistance, I guess is the question, white resistance?
RICH MKHONDO: No, there’s not a lot of resistance. But I would actually just add by saying, let’s take an example of the U.S.. The question of racial divide and economic divide is very difficult to bridge. And also, let’s take quickly the question of racial divide. There’s still racial divide in the U.S. There’s still economic divide in the U.S. How many years has there — actually the U.S. been free and -
MARGARET WARNER: Nearly 150. That’s right, yes.
RICH MKHONDO: Now, my feeling is that during my travels here during the past three years is that it really actually depends on the people themselves to embrace this question of togetherness. In South Africa I think it will be the same thing. White South Africans and black South Africans, particularly white South Africans have to realize that we have to live together. The same thing as you can — you can hear the same story if you go anywhere in the U.S.
MARGARET WARNER: And David Goodman, what in all your reporting, and I know you’ve traveled a lot there, what are you seeing in white attitudes?
DAVID GOODMAN: Well, I think there’s still unfortunately a lot of denial about responsibility for what took place under apartheid. You know, whites were the beneficiaries of apartheid, and as tough as it may be to accept that, I think it really — you know, President Mandela and Deputy President Mbeki have often gone to the white community to say, it is time to give back. There has also been talk in many quarters of South Africa of having some kind of reparations tax of really forcing something that would return some of the benefits that the big companies had gained from apartheid. I think it’s appropriate, and I think whites really need to see themselves much more as part of the rebuilding process of South Africa and not just on the sidelines.
MARGARET WARNER: What do you think prospects are of that, John?
JOHN CHETTLE: I would have thought that the idea of reparations would be very badly received by whites. But the general idea that whites have got to contribute to a greater degree of equity among the population as a whole, that’s undoubtedly true. And exactly how that should be done is going to require more leadership than I think the whites have shown up to now.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thank you, Madame ambassador. Gentlemen, thank you very much.