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Post-Mandela South Africa and Its Strategic Importance

Takeshi Daimon
Professor, Faculty of International Research and Education, Waseda University

Nelson Mandela, an “Extraordinary Ordinary Man” (1918-2013)

If you walk through cities and towns in Kenya, Tanzania, and other African countries, you’ll find main streets named after Nelson Mandela everywhere you go. People say that T-shirts bearing Mandela’s image sell well in street stalls. Mandela was a hero not only to black South Africans, but to people throughout the African continent and the entire world. There is no shortage of praise for the former president of South Africa (1994-1999), who passed away peacefully on December 5, 2013 at the age of 95. U.S. President Barack Obama eulogized him in his memorial address, saying one could not “capture in words” the achievements of “a giant of history, who moved a nation toward justice, and in the process moved billions around the world.” Mandela was, without a doubt, a giant comparable to figures like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Charismatic revolutionaries, however, often do not make good politicians. An ability to move the masses does not necessarily translate into the ability to govern or manage an organization. The many historical examples of revolutionaries who became dictators of the worst kind once the revolution was successful are a testament to this fact.

President Mandela particularly disliked personality cults. Divorced twice and married for the third time at the age of 80, he never hid his human weaknesses and imperfections, including his domestic problems with his ex-wives. When South Africa hosted the World Cup in 2010, he was unable to attend the opening ceremony because of the death of one of his great-grandchildren in an accident. Some are perplexed by this gap between Mandela’s image as a man and his image as a hero, while others feel he was simply a “life-size” human being. The mischievous streak he showed in public in his later years gave the impression that Mandela was just an “ordinary man.” He played the part of an “extraordinary ordinary man” until the very end.

Mandela’s Legacy: The Good and the Bad

Ceremony awarding Nelson Mandela with an honorary doctorate at Waseda University (July 1995)

The question of how well Mandela governed South Africa as president is a contentious one among experts. With his superb sense of legal balance, however, the former lawyer is credited with making the Constitution of South Africa (established in 1997) possible. Considered the world’s most democratic and progressive constitution, it dismantled the long-standing apartheid system, recognized ten official languages in addition to English, stipulated the public’s right of access to information, and abolished discrimination on the basis of disability or sexual orientation.

South Africa is said to have the world’s most transparent and efficient government. On a recent visit to the country to conduct an economic survey, I was shown to a newly designed room at a government office that had the feel of an up-and-coming IT company. Data was immediately provided and displayed in response to my technical questions (through the use of a handheld iPad). I was impressed by the speed and efficiency of the support I received, almost unthinkable for the government agencies of other African countries.

Ever since President Mandela’s inauguration, South Africa’s economy has attracted foreign investment, and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, the largest stock exchange in Africa, has gained attention and prospered as a leading investment destination. Indeed, South Africa’s economy is a driving force behind the African economy, and South Africa is expected to play a role as one of the emerging economies, as it did by hosting the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Summit Meeting in March 2013.

On the other hand, South Africa is still effectively a two-tiered society split between whites and blacks. To be more precise, despite the liberalization of the economy, the economic disparity between the few wealthy whites and blacks who have survived the competition and the many poor blacks who cannot find jobs and live hand-to-mouth is said to be widening. Although the country as a whole has developed, one in four people are unemployed (with one in two black men unemployed). The wealthy class of whites and blacks enjoy the same standard of living as that found in developed European and American countries, while the majority of South Africans resign themselves to the same meager standard of living as people in other African countries. The economic disparity has triggered frequent robberies; even official figures show that nearly 10,000 people are shot to death each year as a result of robberies.

The Strategic Importance of South Africa

Thus, while South Africa as a whole has been buoyed up by an efficient government administration and has achieved rapid growth based on a market economy, its two-tier economy has produced unemployment problems, security problems, and serious social problems. Some Japanese companies stationed in the country are said to be concerned about security and moderate in their local investment. Since South Africa is a middle-income country with a per-capita income exceeding 10,000 dollars, it does not qualify for “official development assistance” (ODA). However, the poverty and levels of education and medical care found in its black community are comparable to those in other African countries and would otherwise qualify the country for ODA.

Infrastructure development in poor neighborhoods and slums and educational and medical support could eventually diminish security risks and increase Japanese investment in South Africa, resulting in good synergistic effects for both South Africa and the Japanese economy. South Africa is the center of growth for the African economic bloc that includes neighboring South African countries, as well as East African countries. The influx of capital from Western and oil-producing countries, and now from China and South Korea, is outpacing the influx of capital from Japan. You could say that Japan’s investment war with China and Korea is reaching its saturation point in Asia, and the main battlefield is moving from there to Africa. In this sense as well, increasing Japanese investment in South Africa and improving the environment there to encourage investment are becoming more and more strategically important for the Japanese economy.

As we admire Mandela’s achievements, let us also think about South Africa and the Japanese economy.

Takeshi Daimon
Professor, Faculty of International Research and Education, Waseda University

Holds a B.A. from the School of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University, an M.A. from Yale University, and a Ph.D. from Cornell University
1989-1994: Staff member (Africa region) of the Overseas Economic Cooperation Fund of Japan (now the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)/Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC))
1994-2000: World Bank economist (Middle East/Africa)
2000-2002: Assistant professor at the International University of Japan
2002-2004: Assistant professor at Meiji Gakuin University
2004-Present: Professor at Waseda University
*Guided by the concept of “economic development,” Professor Daimon has conducted practical research intersecting the disciplines of economics and political science.
In recent years, he has conducted research on social development approaches through peace-building and business in developing countries.
His many publications include a Japanese translation of Amartya Sen’s Identity and Violence (Keiso Shobo) and Peace Building (Keiso Shobo).