D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen joins us to discuss his "sneaker subsidy" for those who dont drive to work. And At-Large Montgomery County Councilmember Marc Elrich will be in studio to talk about the fate of the Purple Line, the county budget, and his candidacy for County Executive.
Nelson Mandela rose from decades of political imprisonment to guide South Africa out of Apartheid and serve as its president. But almost two decades after the fall of white-minority rule, the country continues to confront stark divides along racial and class lines. Kojo talks with journalist Douglas Foster about South Africa “After Mandela.”
- Douglas Foster Author, "After Mandela: The Struggle for Freedom in Post-Apartheid South Africa" (Liveright); and Associate Professor of Journalism, Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Justice, peace, jobs, it was a promise Nelson Mandela made to the South African people as the old system of apartheid crumbled. But almost 20 years later, those promises remain elusive, and South Africa remains a paradox. Today, its Constitution guarantees free speech and voting, along with access to food, shelter and medical care. But more than a quarter of the country is unemployed, and more than one in six young people are HIV-positive.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIA new black elite has moved into the boardrooms of major corporations, but social and economic justice have not been achieved for most black South Africans. Those fissures were on full display this summer when a wildcat strike at a platinum mine escalated into the worst police massacre since the apartheid era, killing 34 striking mineworkers and setting the entire country on edge.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us in studio is Douglas Foster. He is the author of "After Mandela: The Struggle for Freedom in Post-apartheid South Africa." He's a professor of journalism at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Douglas Foster, thank you for joining us.
PROF. DOUGLAS FOSTERIt's a pleasure to be with you, Kojo.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, call us at 800-433-8850. You can send us email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. You can also go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. By any standard, Douglas Foster, the violence that erupted at South Africa's mines this summer is shocking. In August, just to recap, South African police opened fire on striking mineworkers outside the Marikana platinum mine, killing 34 people, setting off a cascade of violence and work stoppages that have wracked mines across the country.
NNAMDIBut this story is fraught with historic symbolism and deeper political significance in South Africa. In many ways, it speaks to the failures of the peaceful revolution that began two decades ago. What exactly happened this summer, and why is it so worrisome to the ruling African National Congress party?
FOSTERI think the reason the slaughter of 34 people in August has caused such amazing soul searching within the party and across the country is, as you indicated, those images of people being shot in the midst of a labor dispute made people remember what it was like in the late 1980s as apartheid was on the ropes, hundreds of thousands of people struck in the goldmines. And that really is what forced the former white regime to the negotiation table.
FOSTERIt's also an indication of what was won in the mid-1990s at the point of political liberation and what was not won. Basically, to put it in the most crude terms, the ANC, the liberation movement, agreed to trade one person, one vote, for keeping the economy basic structure intact. And that meant that this new government was going to have a huge challenge in making that first promise -- peace, jobs and justice -- follow it, political liberation lead to social and economic justice.
FOSTERAnd that is what these strikes indicate to us is that that unfulfilled promise of 1994 is coming to the fore, and it's not just at Lonmin mine. Those wildcats have now spread to gold, to diamonds, to chrome mines as well and into coal. There's a national strike by truck drivers going on. So I think we see in this labor upsurge a pointing out, a very painful point to the governing elite, which is that political liberation did not lead to social justice and economic justice yet.
NNAMDIWell, it's my understanding that about one-fifth of the country's mineworkers are now on strike. But exactly what happened at the Lonmin mine? How did police officers -- given the history of South Africa under apartheid, how did police officers shoot into a crowd of striking miners?
FOSTERSo I think strikes in South Africa have always been violent. This was a violent strike, a wildcat, in which police and security people felt quite insecure. Ten people had died in the lead-up to this shooting. So, in fairness to the security forces, we have to say they felt under threat. That doesn't obviate the fact that they were not prepared with rubber bullets. They were not prepared with water cannon.
FOSTERThey were not prepared with anything but live ammunition at a point in which tensions were rising. So those wildcat strikers were confronted by police who were determined to push them off the little hill where they were located. And miners ran towards the police lines, and people were shot down and killed -- 34 people. And that footage, which played around the clock in South Africa in the weeks afterwards, led to a tremendous soul searching, I think, across the country.
NNAMDIBack in 1987, a strike by South Africa's black mineworkers helped spark the revolution against apartheid, but today, the ruling party and the ruling elite find themselves in an uncomfortable position. The founder of the largest union in South Africa now sits on the board of the mine that workers are striking against.
FOSTERSure. And, you know, with an emerging black elite, which the ANC wanted to create, former President Mbeki called it a patriotic bourgeoisie, meant that leaders in the movement were going to take up positions in top corporate positions. So you have Cyril Ramaphosa, who was the man who Nelson Mandela originally wanted to succeed him as president of the movement, president of the country, now on that board and the board of other major corporations. And it does heighten the contradictions. No question about it.
NNAMDII'd like to pull back for a second and ask you a broader question about the political arc of South Africa over the past two decades. When the African National Congress came to power in the free elections in South Africa's history back in 1004, the party inherited an economy that was deeply divided between black and white, rich and poor and a government that was basically broke. South Africa undeniably went through a political revolution, but it never really addressed the huge disparities between rich and poor. Can a revolution succeed without social and economic justice?
FOSTERNo. Clearly -- and this is the example which proves the case, and I don't think anybody in the ANC from the president on down would say that it could -- the difficulty that the Tripartite Alliance, which governs in South Africa, faced in the mid-'90s was that three world historical forces arrived on the same day. Political liberation happened in that election in April of 1994.
FOSTEROn the same day, HIV walked in the door, and so did the need to link the South African economy, which had been hived off from the world economy, back up to the world economy which at that moment was going through rapid changes that included a tendency to increase inequality everywhere.
FOSTERSo at the same point that you're trying to deal with a situation in which this historic entwining of race and class over the years of apartheid, not just the years of apartheid, but hundreds of years of colonialism, you have layered over it, linking up to a world system that increases inequality. And that was the contradiction they faced. It's part of the reason 18 years in that there has been so little progress in closing that gap.
NNAMDIYou mentioned the tripartite coalition that would be the African National Congress...
FOSTERThe South African Communist Party...
FOSTER...and the Federation of Trade Unions, called...
NNAMDIThe Coalition of South African Trade Unions. Our guest is Douglas Foster. He is the author of "After Mandela: The Struggle for Freedom in Post-apartheid South Africa." He's a professor of journalism at the Medill School of Journalism in -- at Northwestern University. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. How has your view of South Africa evolved since the end of apartheid?
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Do you think it's possible to have social justice without economic justice? You can also send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or email to email@example.com. The number again, 800-433-8850. What would economic justice look like in a country like South Africa? Same question to you in a way, Douglas Foster, because we saw what in Zimbabwe right next door was a redistribution of land that satisfied very few people and clearly did not lead to economic justice in Zimbabwe, so what would economic justice look like in South Africa? It clearly could not simply be a redistribution of land.
FOSTERRight. Although, I think Zimbabwe is one example of land reform that doesn't work because the land goes from farmers who actually are producing food on that land to cronies of President Mugabe, the dictator in power in Zimbabwe. In South Africa, land was -- land reform was supposed to take place under the willing buyer or willing seller principle. And that has resulted in very little transfer of land to the people who work it.
FOSTERSo it is an example of maybe an overly legalistic system in which change has come much too slow. Eighty percent of the land, 80 percent of the wealth of the country is still held by whites, about 9 percent of the population. So you see that entwining still of race and income, race and class continuing. Just to put it in terms that listeners might understand, half the population -- 80 percent of blacks now earn household income, 3,000 rand or less.
FOSTERNinety-eight percent of whites are above that halfway mark, 80 percent of blacks below it. This entwining of race and class is obviously not sustainable in a democracy whether you're calling it political liberation or social justice.
NNAMDIPut on your headphones because we're about to go to the telephones. We will start with Annie in Reston, Va. Annie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANNIEHello, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. This is the first time I've ever called in to anything like this, and I hope that I can express what I want to say. I'm concerned -- I work in an NGO that is global, and in the past, they have their secretariat in South Africa. And it failed because it lost director after director because we felt that the country as a whole, in spite of being open to black and white interacting well together, the country as a whole remains quite xenophobic.
NNAMDIOK. I'm glad you brought that up because, I think, Douglas Foster will have something to say about that and about how the country breaks down culturally, but in terms of Annie's question, the xenophobia.
FOSTERCould I just ask, Annie, the NGO work in what sector and the xenophobia that you all experienced was directed at who?
ANNIEWell, it's a global organization, and the directors were brought in from other countries. And they were living in neighborhoods that had to be walled off, and they weren't safe going around in white or black areas of -- I believe it was the capital.
NNAMDIAnd, of course, we remember that a few years ago that there were riots in South Africa attacking Zimbabwean immigrants there.
FOSTERThat's why I was asking because I think when people say xenophobia it's good to kind of pinpoint what we're talking about. The riots that Kojo was referencing in 2008 were -- are now talked about in terms of Afrophobia because they were directed at African migrants coming from elsewhere in Africa to the large cities in South Africa.
FOSTERAnd certainly, the kind of economic pressure that we've been talking about, high levels of unemployment, have been exacerbated by the fact that, for example, more than 3 million Zimbabweans are in South Africa seeking work and often competing with South African workers. I suspect the kind of xenophobia that the caller is asking about has to do with outsiders and the relationship to NGOs coming in, trying to help and a kind of suspicion that you find maybe especially in rural areas.
FOSTERBut sometimes, in townships and in formal settlements, in which that idea of the outsider coming in to tell us what to do and to work with us in certain domains can be very tricky. I think it is very tricky for NGOs right now, for NGOs particularly working on social and economic development projects, to get cooperation of communities that have seen many waves of projects announced with great fanfare in the beginning and that have dribbled away.
FOSTERThere's a kind of frustration that probably puts people on the frontlines at significant risk. It also is still a violent society with very high rates of murder and robbery.
NNAMDIAnnie, thank you very much for your call. We've got to take a short break. If you have already called, stay on the line. We will get to your call. The number is 800-433-8850, if you like to join the conversation. We're talking with Douglas Foster. He is author of "After Mandela: The Struggle for Freedom in Post-apartheid South Africa." The number is 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation with Douglas Foster. He is author of the book "After Mandela: The Struggle for Freedom in Post-apartheid South Africa." He's also a professor of journalism at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. We're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Here is Rick in Rockville, Md. Rick, your turn.
RICKWell, I think this was mentioned earlier. But I wonder, with the problems of unemployment in South Africa and what happened on the mines, it's my understanding -- and I did actually grew up in South Africa -- that there are hundreds, if not thousands of immigrants who cross the border every day into South Africa from Northern Africa and that some of these people working on the mines are actually from those countries, and what impact they're having on the tension in South Africa and also on the unemployment.
FOSTERYeah. Sure. You're absolutely right, big source of tension. I think the Lonmin strikers, as it turned out, weren't largely immigrants. But in the mines, as in almost every labor domain, as I'm sure you know, there is tension among workers about this large supply of labor, this coming from the North. You're quite right.
FOSTERAnd that kind of felt expression, particularly of Afrophobia, which you can hear on the street when people talk about Macquarie Quarry, which is a slur directed at African migrants because of the supposed unintelligibility of the languages they speak. It is fierce. And I think that that's the reason so many of the student organizations at universities around the country had been talking about Afrophobia and have been holding marches against xenophobia that is particularly targeted on these migrants from the North.
NNAMDIRick, thank you for your call. We have John in Arlington, Va. who seems to want to proceed along the same theme. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNI called because I was in South Africa in 1969 and visited several of the gold and diamond and the premier platinum mines. And at that time, the miners were, I was told, predominantly from the North. They were not South Africans, and I was just calling to find out if that was still the case with the mines today and, if so, what impact that might have had with regard to the current trouble.
FOSTERI haven't seen a recent breakdown. But I think even then, certainly you would have had large numbers of people from Lesotho working in the mines. But there were a large number of South Africans always. And part of the problem of negotiating a new South Africa has been that that migratory labor stream of people leaving their families for long periods of time, maybe being home only twice a year, being in same-sex hostiles in which, you know, conflict was more likely.
FOSTERThose patterns have persisted, and they certainly increase the likelihood that when you have a strike situation, it's more likely to be violent. So those conditions you saw on '69, many of them would be similar to what you see today.
NNAMDIJohn, thank you very much for your call. On to Bryant in Bethesda, Md. Bryant, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BRYANTThank you so much, Kojo. I was wondering if you'd speak a little more to the role of Julius Malema in the current political scene. I know he is, kind of, tried to position himself as a representative of kind of the miners and the everyday working South African. And that's why if you could speak a little bit towards -- if he's going to be a threat to Zuma and how he might impact the reshaping of the ANC if at all.
NNAMDIJulius Malema, for those of you who are unaware of who he is, was the former youth leader of the ANC who, at one point, was found in favor with the leadership of the ANC but had a very public falling out, first with President Thabo Mbeki, who preceded President Jacob Zuma, and then with President Jacob Zuma himself and has now taken to talking about getting rid of Jacob Zuma as president of the country but seems to have a fairly large following, especially among young people. Douglas Foster.
FOSTERJulius Malema said last week, Zuma is not my president. So it couldn't be put in starker terms than that. In 2009, during the last national election, I was shadowing President Zuma, and Julius Malema was often at his shoulder during those campaign stops. Zuma's daughter Thuthu told me that when she went on a speaking tour with her father during that election, if they went to even the smallest little door in the Eastern Cape and Zuma spoke, but Malema hadn't been called on to speak, that the people with demand that he speak and that the cheers, if anything, would be louder than for her father.
FOSTERSo I think it's a mistake to underestimate him, to assume that because he is now been expelled from the ANC that he has no power and no force. He's very quick. He moved, he arrived at the Lonmin mine long before government officials did, held a rally, spoke, aligned himself with them. He's been going around the country calling for another revolution, violent...
NNAMDICalling for nationalization of the mines.
FOSTERYes. That actually has been the policy of the youth league for many years and a -- one of the consequences of the national conference in 2007 was that an examination, a party examination of whether nationalization was a good policy was something that was passed by the delegates. So we had some backing in that push. I think that is very hard, once you've been expelled from the party, to have influence -- to sustain influence in South African politics for a long time. But he is smart. He is agile. He is facing a tremendous number of potentially criminal charges.
FOSTERHis home was invaded yesterday by inspectors from the tax -- from SARS, the tax agency, because of tenders that he has been part of that may or may not be legal. So he's got the force of the state thrown at him at this point. I think people who count him out need to remember that Zuma himself in 2007 faced tremendous force from all kinds of investigations, including for corruption, and that he did end up prevailing, becoming president of the party in 2007, becoming president of the country in 2009.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Bryant. I'm glad you're heading in that direction, so to speak, because South African politics is almost always presented as a story of black and white, often black versus white or perhaps haves and have nots. But this is an incredibly diverse culture consisting of 11 official languages, nine of which are black African languages and a whole bunch of ethnic divisions. You were struck by how significant black-on-black rivalries are within South African politics. Talk about that.
FOSTERI think one of the reasons I've written a book instead of just an article is that, when I started going in 2004, a lot of my attitudes were shaped by the reporting I had read from outsiders and that reporting apparently because so many Americans saw the South African struggle as an extension of the civil rights movement here, focused on that line between whites and blacks. And the problem with doing that obviously is that you end up giving 50 percent of your attention to 9 percent of the population.
FOSTERSo what I was struck by from the very first day was the difference between what I've read and understood and the reality I was seeing, the changing reality I was seeing on the ground, both in news rooms and elsewhere, that have to do with these 11 official languages, these nine black language groups and the rivalries that occur. Now the big trope, of course, is to turn that into tribal differences, to use that incorrect language and to fall into the other danger of an outsider, which is -- sometimes we ignore these differences to our peril.
FOSTERSometimes we harp on them in ways that just reinforce old colonial prejudices about the way -- ways in which people are actually divided. But, of course, you know, the differences between Zulu-speaking people in KwaZulu-Natal around the treatment of Jacob Zuma, a fellow Zulu speaker and the highest-ranked Zulu speaker in the cabinet, would have been a fool's errand not to notice.
NNAMDIAnd the rivalries, the cultural rivalries, so to speak, tend to have a significant effect on how politics works or does not in South Africa.
FOSTERWell, in some ways, yes. And then in some ways you'll be so surprised, apparently, as a result of the fact that the ANC, ever since its founding, has been so anti-tribalistic. I mean, there's a lot language in the internal party debates. You certainly saw during president Mandela's first term a very intentional effort to make sure that the cabinet reflected the complete panoply of language groups and origins, you know, where had people grown up, what language did they speak.
FOSTERAnd you see that in the cabinet now, too. So, yes, there are these pressures pushing in one direction, the tripartite alliance, the federation of trade unions, the South African Communist Party and the ANC have all pushed very hard to make sure that South Africa doesn't go down the road of some of its neighbors.
NNAMDIHere is Mohammed in Washington, D.C. Mohammed, you're on the air. Go ahead, please
MOHAMMEDHi, Kojo. Yeah, I just have a comment, you know, that the wealth of Africa has always been controlled by whites, and, you know, all -- before Mandela, some of their money actually stayed in Africa. After Mandela, a lot of the whites are fearful of losing everything, so their money is being transferred, which made it worse than ever. So the black men in Africa really -- he is African, but he owns nothing there. And he worked for people that come from Europe, from Israel, and they control the mines of the diamonds. We can see at commercials on TV here of...
NNAMDIWell, you seem to be saying, Mohammed, that the difference between the apartheid period and the post-apartheid period is that, for some reason, during apartheid, a lot of the money, profits that were made, stayed in South Africa, and in the post-apartheid period, they are not staying in South Africa. The money is leaving South Africa. Do you know that to be correct at all, Douglas Foster?
FOSTERI don't think that we've seen in the last couple of years big capital outflows at all. I think the basic point that Muhammad is making, the sense of people on the ground that, for example, if you're in a township south of Johannesburg these days, often people will say the ANC is in office but not in power. And what they mean is government departments are controlled by party representatives of all races and that the essential struts of the economy are still in white hands.
FOSTERI think that essential critique is right. But I wouldn't want people to completely overlook the progress that's been made as if nothing has happened since 1994 either.
NNAMDII want to talk about that for a second -- Mohammed, thank you very much for your call -- because a lot of that progress was made not only Nelson Mandela but under his successor. Nelson Mandela inspired South Africa and the world, but actually delivering on the promises that he wanted -- that he may have presented some extremely difficult challenges that almost, from the beginning, fell on Thabo Mbeki, first as Mandela's deputy, then as South Africa's second president.
NNAMDIAs you point out, by many measures, Thabo Mbeki was an incredibly successful president. Under his leadership, millions of black Africans were able to enter the middle class, and the government was able to provide housing and electricity and running water to millions of families. But you say he made three critical mistakes or misjudgments that may have ended up tarnishing his legacy and perhaps push the entire country on a dangerous trajectory. Talk about Thabo Mbeki, what he achieved and what you felt were the mistakes he made.
FOSTERYeah, I think -- especially if you're looking from the outside, from the U.S. I certainly went with the focus on HIV and the policy of president Mbeki as a denialist, as an HIV-leads-to-AIDS denialist. But you can't use that history to erase the kind of role he played and doing the heavy lifting to try to take that peace jobs and justice promise forward. So you've got 2 million people who move into blacks, who move into middle income under Mbeki's administration.
FOSTERYou have millions and millions of people moved into housing and to access to water and electricity. So those are things that we shouldn't pay attention to. If we want to understand the persistent loyalty to the ANC, it's largely around moving people out of poverty and seeing some sign's of the possibility of upward social mobility.
FOSTERAnd that's not at all to take way from the tremendous damage that he did on the HIV front. Scientific studies show that at least 300,000 people or slightly more died needlessly because of the delay in providing anti-retroviral treatment to people who needed it.
NNAMDIYou mentioned, among other critical mistakes, an arms scandal that ended up involving the current president, Jacob Zuma, and his continued defense or inaction towards Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. But I think the thing that puzzle's people most is that how is it that somebody of Thabo Mbeki's' demonstrated education and intelligence could have what appears to be such an uninformed position on HIV/AIDS.
NNAMDII'm going to ask you to read from an excerpt of the book that, in a way, explains what his thinking was about HIV/AIDS. If you can go to page 28 of the book and start where it says President Mbeki frankly doubted that conventional wisdom about the diseases was true.
FOSTERSure. I mean, this is along the lines of my usual feeling as an outsider when I'm covering something that seems so strange and mysterious. No matter what my feeling is -- and obviously I've lived through two waves of the disease in the U.S., so I didn't come to it blind in any sense. But I wanted to understand, what was this president's, this very smart president's logic train that led to his beliefs? So here it is from the book.
FOSTER"President Mbeki frankly doubted that conventional wisdom about the disease was true. As the illness swept across Southern Africa, he posed a series of logical questions: Who gained by this interpretation of the situation and who lost? It was classic dialectical thinking and reflected the tremendous pressures that would be placed on the new government if the conventional explanation proved true.
FOSTER"Mbeki and other party leaders believed that they risked everything if they turned all of the government's attention towards AIDS alone. Much of the nation's limited financial resources slated for education, job training and economic development could be diverted to the purchase of drugs in the battle against a single disease. Costs for medications were much higher then. In the president's view, large drug conglomerates were the only winners in this scenario.
FOSTER"The assertion that HIV spread through sex, what's more, seemed like a barbed affront meant to reinforce racist tropes about supposedly hyper-sexualized lives of black people. Even though the epidemic already had been brought under control in places where people had more sex than the average South African, Mbeki was enraged by the idea that so many whites seemed to hold that black Africans would find their fates at the intersection of sex and death.
FOSTER"In a document the president circulated among ANC insiders, he argued that the clear meta-message of what he called the HIV 'theory' was simple: 'Yes, we are sex-crazy. Yes, we are diseased.'"
NNAMDIAnd that explaining the logic that was unfolding in the mind of then-President Thabo Mbeki that led to the mistakes that he clearly made, having to do with trying to treat HIV and AIDS and intervene much earlier than he eventually did. We've got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Douglas Foster about his book, "After Mandela: The Struggle for Freedom in Post-apartheid South Africa."
NNAMDIYou should know that Douglas Foster will be reading excerpts of his book this Wednesday, Oct. 10, at the Medill School of Journalism's Washington campus located at 1325 G Street Northwest. That event starts at 7 p.m. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Douglas Foster, author of the book "After Mandela: The Struggle for Freedom in Post-apartheid South Africa." Douglas Foster is a professor of journalism at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. And we're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Today, the president of South Africa is Jacob Zuma, following a different path to power within the ANC than Thabo Mbeki did. How has Zuma approached the demands of his office?
FOSTERWell, I think, for one thing, he's been much more focused on rural development than Mbeki was. His administration, ever since he became president of the party and then president of the country, has been complicated by a very complicated private life. He is a polygamist with four wives and many girlfriends. And, of course, his romantic life has been part of the headlines that have distracted from his ability to effectively take on the challenges in the country, unfortunately.
NNAMDIJacob Zuma himself has said some, well, peculiar things about HIV/AIDS, including an infamous claim that he could protect against the disease by taking a shower. What does it say about the ANC that its two post-Mandela standard bearers seemed so resistant to scientific consensus about the disease?
FOSTERI think that those comments from Zuma, which came during a trial on rape charges, actually -- he was charged and tried, accused of rape, acquitted, but during the course of his defense said -- was forced to say publicly so many embarrassing things about his sexual and romantic life, and then including that one, of course, that was widely denounced all over the country. What's happened, though, under his administration is that he appointed a quite visionary minister of health.
FOSTERAnd for the first time, we're beginning to see signs of a real turnaround, a plateauing or decline of the rate of new infections. So there is this apparent contradiction between the behavior and statements of the president and what the administration of his cabinet has actually been able to do.
NNAMDIOn to Cassandra in Silver Spring, Md. Hi, Cassandra. Hi, Cassandra. You're almost on the air. Cassandra, go ahead, please.
CASSANDRAYeah. Mr. Foster, income inequality compounded by racial inequality is certainly not unique to South Africa, of course. You have only to look at the United States' past and present to be convinced of that. My questions are, first of all, do you have any ideas for how to tackle what seems to be an intractable problem worldwide? And, secondly, do you know of any government or organization which is -- which are successfully implementing strategies or solutions for the same?
NNAMDIAny models and your own prescriptions.
FOSTERThat's a great question. Let me just root it in South Africa 'cause it's been where I've been in eight years. One of the reasons I wrote this book is because I think the tripartite alliance and its critics actually are wrestling with exactly the question that you're raising. So let me just suggest a couple of things that have come up in the last couple of weeks in the national debate. One, obviously, is the importance in developing countries of being able to protect your own manufacturing base.
FOSTERThis is true in South Africa, particularly with regard to textiles, which were eviscerated by incoming imports from China under national -- international trade rules, and automobile manufacturing. If you don't have ladders of social mobility within a developing country, how do you develop middle-income sectors, and how do you, without radical redistribution, create a situation in which people can move up from the bottom?
FOSTERThe other thing is the focus on education. DNC has pumped large amounts of money but not enough thought into aligning the educational system with the jobs that are going to be available today or tomorrow. The most disturbing thing about the situation right now is that black college graduates are finding difficulty finding work. And while it's true that many countries face this kind of inequality based on the intertwining of race and income, including here, that's clearly true.
FOSTERWe're talking about a situation in South Africa where we're looking at a situation in which 80 percent of the population, the population of blacks, is particularly affected by this inequality. So I think, yes, there are many things to learn about the things that are being tried out in places like South Africa for our own circumstance. It's not merely a situation of looking at South Africa and saying, how long will it take for them to become more like us?
FOSTERI think it's actually the reverse. In places like South Africa, we have a lot to learn about dealing with the embedded, intractable, inequality based on race here with some of the experiments that are taking place there.
NNAMDICassandra, thank you very much for your call. You give me the opportunity to talk about the fact that we understood -- having lived in a nation here that -- in which racial segregation was legal, we understood apartheid very well. And the movement against apartheid took hold here especially after demonstrations started in front of the South African Embassy one Thanksgiving Day when activists like Dick Gregory and Mary Frances Berry and Eleanor Holmes Norton, who's now the D.C. delegate, got arrested in front of the embassy.
NNAMDIAnd for a year or more after that, there was the procession of celebrities getting arrested in front of the South African Embassy. The American public was engaged on the issue. The administration had to pay attention to it. But in the post-apartheid period, there seemed to be basically two narratives we get of South Africa -- the rainbow nation of Nelson Mandela and the country that always seems to be on the brink of chaos.
NNAMDIIt's not that easy to understand anymore as apartheid was. As a journalist, how challenging is it to accurately present a country as complex as South Africa? Is it even possible to understand all of the cross-currents operating there?
FOSTERWell, I've taken a big step at it in this book...
NNAMDIYou certainly have.
FOSTER...in "After Mandela." And you spoke so movingly about what drew the attention of a lot of us to that situation. If I remember right, you covered some of those early demonstrations.
NNAMDII certainly did.
FOSTERAnd I certainly came up as a student in civil rights marches, in anti-Vietnam War marches and so on, carrying or looking at those photographs of Nelson Mandela in his boxing trunks, in fighting trim or at his conviction, the sedition trial in skins. I think we understood quite well in the '60s and '70s that our freedom in the U.S. was linked in some essential way to freedom at the southern tip of Africa. And the problem -- this is a critique of my own profession, of journalism -- is that we understand these two narratives as you laid out, cataclysm or miracle, right?
FOSTERAnd the Nelson Mandela story fit in to that miracle narrative: Somebody comes out of prison after 27 years, having been denounced, including by the U.S. government, as a terrorist and becomes a reconciler and president of his country. And when he steps down from office in 1999, we leave the story there, and it becomes a story of -- a series of cataclysms. What I tried to do in this book is to explain what happens after huge trauma in a society. How do people heroically tried to stitch a sense of authentic African democratic aspiration together?
FOSTERAnd I think that's what we've seen, this in-between, neither cataclysm nor miracle, but real heroes and heroines, mostly among average people, the kinds of young South Africans I profile in this book, who are trying to find the wiggle room in the international economy to achieve the non-racial, non-sexist, non-homophobic, more egalitarian society that was the promise and that is still held to by young South Africans. They are fighting for it. And part of the reason for the book is to help us understand how to help them get there.
NNAMDIGlad you took me there because more than 40 percent of the South African population was born after the fall of apartheid. Your book spent a lot of time following the story of Jonathan, an illiterate, homeless boy, who hustles through Cape Town searching for his family and going in and out of jail. As this born free, if you will, generation comes of age, is Jonathan's story representative of young people whose lives have followed the arc of post-apartheid South Africa? How have they been let down, and how do they nevertheless seem to maintain a pretty heavy dose of optimism?
FOSTERIt's amazing. You know, 57 percent of young South African say that they believe their lives will be better than their parents, so that's an important corrective to the cataclysm narrative given the background of these circumstances that we've been talking about. Jonathan in particular -- I thread the narrative with the stories of six young people, and he's somebody I found homeless in Cape Town.
FOSTERHis is, unfortunately, a logical progression from runaway to homeless and in the streets, to beggar, to thief, to armed thief and worse. He's the young person who helps us understand why the crime rate is so high and what it will take to begin to bring that crime rate down.
NNAMDII received an email from Jeanette, who says, "I lived and worked in South Africa from 1997 to 2001 as a trainer and supervising producer at the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation, helping to transform it from a tool of the apartheid system to an actual news organization. On a personal level, I was well-received by my colleagues and other South Africans who mostly had a fondness for America, especially black American culture, especially the music, by which they knew a great deal.
NNAMDI"Over time, a certain amount of natural tension began to develop directed at the idea of Americans, in this case, black Americans, coming to teach South Africans." It wasn't directed at her personally. She said, "The daily newscaster used to say, 'And now news from Africa.'" She suggested to the presenters that South Africa was a part of Africa and they began eventually saying, "And now news from the rest of Africa."
NNAMDIBut I get that that gets back to the earlier question that we were raising about xenophobia and a certain resentment about outsiders always telling us what to do, so to speak, in South Africa.
FOSTERAnd I think that's legitimate. I mean, South Africans have to determine their own destiny obviously. I think there's -- there is something really interesting happening in a place like Johannesburg. There's a kind of cosmopolitan-emerging Africanized hybrid, almost Pan-African identity that's pretty exciting. And people want to be allowed to create that, particularly without a U.S. or Eurocentric critique, and I understand that.
NNAMDISouth Africa's constitution is commonly described as one of the most progressive on the planet. It guarantees positive rights to things like food and shelter. It explicitly bans discrimination on race, gender and sexual orientation. Obviously, a document has not yet translated into reality. I guess what those young people you're talking about hope is that, one day, it ultimately will.
FOSTERThat's absolutely right. I think what you see in the 57 percent, assuming that their lives will be better than their parents, is that there will be more movement in the next 10 years than there has been in the last 18 to making that promise of a non-racial, non-sexist, non-homophobic, an egalitarian society. These principles we would do well to live by more fully -- a reality, that's the vision. And it's one that's pretty bracing and exciting to be around.
NNAMDIDouglas Foster is author of "After Mandela: The Struggle for Freedom in Post-apartheid South Africa." He's a professor of journalism at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Douglas Foster, thank you so much for joining us.
FOSTERWhat a pleasure.
NNAMDIAnd thank you so all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
The journalist Charnice Milton was killed two years ago by crossfire from a drive-by shooting in Southeast Washington. Now community advocates in the area are opening a bookstore to honor her memory, promote literacy and address book deserts in neighborhoods East of the Anacostia River
The Civil War ended more than 150 years ago, but today's Washingtonians are still debating its causes, its heroes and what its legacy should look like in our region.
Inside an 800-square-foot shop, D.C.-based social entrepreneur Ahmad Ashkar is using his Mom's falafel recipe to raise money for refugees.