South Africa has made great strides in addressing the legacy of apartheid, according to the South African Ambassador to the US, H.E. Barbara Masekela.
Ms. Barbara Masekela who was appointed Ambassador to the US in June 2003 was speaking to students at the Kennedy School of Government, on March 10, on “Challenges Ahead for the Young Democracy in South Africa”.
Quoting from South African President Thabo Mbeki’s State of the Nation address at the opening of Parliament on February 6, 2004, Ms. Masekela outlined the progress that has been made by the South African government in the past 10 years. During this time the government has provided 1.9 million housing subsidies with 1.6 million houses built for the poor of South Africa. An additional 9 million people have access to clean water. 70% of South African households have access to electricity from only 40% in 1994. High school enrollment has increased from 70% in 1994 to over 85% in 2004.
Despite all the progress that has been made Ms. Masekela was quick to point out that South Africa still had a long way to go in addressing the legacy of the past. Some of the challenges that lay ahead include addressing the issue of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, increasing land redistribution and improving the performance of South Africa’s economy.
On the issue of the HIV/AIDS problem, Ms. Masekela reaffirmed South Africa’s commitment to developing a holistic approach to fighting the pandemic. This approach would include providing Antiretroviral (ARV) to those infected with HIV while educating the 40 million uninfected South Africans on HIV prevention. The South African government has come under pressure for the slow pace at which it has rolled out ARV’s but Ms. Masekela defended the government pointing out that the government has had to overcome a number of obstacles which include finding an affordable source of ARV’s and improving the public health care to ensure that patients had the health care needed to support their treatment.
Ms. Masekela who is a graduate of the University of Ohio had served as Nelson Mandela’s Chief of Staff and has also been a board member at a number of private institutions including Standard Bank, South African Broadcasting Corporation and International Marketing Council. She said that while the South African government has worked hard at ensuring that the right macroeconomic fundamentals are in place this has failed to generate the jobs that had been expected.
Again quoting from Mr. Mbeki’s State of the Nation address, Ms. Masekela outlined the economic progress made by South Africa in the past ten years. “In 1994, the government faced the following economic situation: South Africa was in its twenty-first year of double-digit inflation, the country had had three years of negative growth – the economy and the wealth of the nation were shrinking, from 1985 to the middle of 1994, total net capital outflow from our country amounted to almost R50 billion, the Government had run up a budget deficit equal to 9.5% of the GDP, the net open forward position of the South African Reserve Bank was $25 billion in deficit and the public sector debt was equal to 64% of the GDP.
By 2004, the government had managed to reduce inflation to four percent, the country is currently experiencing the longest period of consistent positive growth since the GDP was properly recorded in the 1940’s, the net open forward position of the South African Reserve Bank rose to $4.7 billion in surplus by the end of last year and the public sector debt has come down to less than 50% of GDP.”
Ms. Masekela reaffirmed that despite all the progress that South Africa has made the government has not been able to provide the jobs needed to reduce unemployment and prevent the growth of an underclass society which she believes may ultimately put pressure on South Africa’s democracy in the long run. She also pointed out that South Africa does not operate as an island and its success is highly dependent on the development of the rest of Africa and it is for this reason that the South African government and, Mr. Mbeki in particular, has been heavily involved in the formation of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the African Union (AU).
In closing, Ms. Masekela encouraged all South Africans’ living in the United Stated to be ambassadors for their country. She pointed out that South Africa had only three consulate offices in the US and that there were many more South Africans’ who could promote investment and tourism in South Africa by sharing their passion and love for the country of their birth.