Nelson Mandela, A Revered Leader, Left No Successors The former President of South Africa, now 94, is in poor health; but there is no objective justification for South Africa's poor economic health

By Paolo von Schirach

June 10, 2013

WASHINGTON – 94 year old Nelson Mandela, the symbol of anti-apartheid resistance, and the first elected President of the new, post 1994 South Africa, is in the hospital seriously ill. He has been in poor health for quite a while and he seems to have slipped into some form of senile dementia. All this is sad; but in a way inevitable. Mandela is a very old man, and he suffers from the consequences of ailments contracted during his long time in prison.

South Africa’s decline

Equally sad, but not at all inevitable, is South Africa’s steady decline as a country. Whatever the injustices and the open exploitation of the old apartheid regime, South Africa used to be by far Africa’s leading economy. In many ways it is still is. But the country has been doing poorly.

In large part this has to do with the unimaginative, often incompetent and unfortunately corrupt African National Congress national and local leaders. Nelson Mandela is an exceptional man. He was the ideal President for a remarkably smooth transition from White minority rule to Black majority rule. Mandela was inspiring, dignified, generous and not at all resentful regarding his oppressors. He tried to inspire all of South Africa’s citizens so that they would build together a successful, vibrant multi-racial democracy. 

Mediocre successors

But when he left the scene, ANC party functionaries took over. They are mediocre and quite often incapable. The net result of poor leadership is sluggish growth. And this means that the enormous gap between rich and poor is not going to get filled. Indeed, in order to fulfill government promises of expanded social services and greater economic opportunity for the poor, South Africa would need a growth rate well above 5% per year.

Well, GDP growth has been quite sluggish recently, around 2%. First quarter growth in 2013 has been a dismal 0.9%. 

And why the poor performance? Many reasons, including high labor costs, militant labor unions that frighten investors, energy shortages, a mostly illiterate population that cannot be employed in skilled jobs, and too much corruption.

Sadly, Nelson Mandela, himself a great leader, left no successors.

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