Mandela’s successors can shape his economic legacy
By Edward Hadas
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
As world leaders gather to remember Nelson Mandela, they may ponder South Africa‚Äôs middle-income trap, with economic growth held back by poor education, inadequate investment and excessive corruption. Yet compared with other post-colonial economies, even stagnation would be a tribute to Mandela‚Äôs peace-making.
Economically, South Africa is further away from Zimbabwe and Algeria than from India. In relative terms, that is something the country‚Äôs first black president could be proud of. Yet although Mandela helped end apartheid, South Africa‚Äôs old system of racial separation, the country remains economically divided. The 2012 census showed an average GDP per person of about $11,500, but that figure obscures the reality. At the current exchange rate, the average white person‚Äôs annual income is a little more than $35,000 ‚Äď about the same as the UK national average. The figure for blacks is only about one-sixth of that.
That isn‚Äôt necessarily a failure of Mandela‚Äôs rainbow vision. For one thing, blacks‚Äô incomes have grown twice as fast as whites‚Äô over the last decade, even if there is a long way to go. And for another, it‚Äôs a better outcome than in many poor countries after the end of minority rule.
The economy of neighbouring Zimbabwe has collapsed. The country‚Äôs racial history is similar, but it got Robert Mugabe rather than Mandela. Algeria was once almost as French as South Africa is Afrikaans or English, but the post-independence government drove the settlers out and the economy has stumbled. And the resource-rich Democratic Republic of Congo, a former Belgian colony, is still a war-torn mess.
Mandela deserves credit for South Africa‚Äôs non-collapse. He abandoned youthful plans for expropriations and kept powerful white interests on side. As president for five years to 1999, he may not have done enough to rein in his African National Congress colleagues. But they deserve much of the blame for the country‚Äôs subsequent mediocre performance. The annual growth rate in GDP per capita has been 2.2 percent since 2002, well below the 7.6 percent rate in India, which has also struggled with extreme poverty and social divisions.
Recent trends aren‚Äôt encouraging, and few would praise Mandela‚Äôs successors, principally Thabo Mbeki and now Jacob Zuma, for their handling of the economy. But at least they have some kind of stability upon which it‚Äôs not too late to build ‚Äď and shape a more positive long-term economic legacy for their great political icon.