- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 12, 2007

South Africa at 13

South Africa’s ruling political party amassed an impressive record of failure in critical areas of a society since taking power 13 years ago, according to the leader of the parliamentary opposition.

While opposition leaders routinely criticize the majority party, Tony Leon of the free-market Democratic Alliance has facts on his side when he cites the “extremely high unemployment, extremely high rates of violent crime, a failing education system and the new and awful scourge of HIV/AIDS” under the African National Congress.

Those “four gigantic problems menace us like the horsemen of the Apocalypse,” he told an audience at Washington’s Cato Institute on Wednesday afternoon.

“To those, you can add a destructive obsession with racial engineering, an exodus of much-needed skilled South Africans and a shameful foreign policy toward our unhappy neighbor, Zimbabwe,” he said.

The majority-black ANC has dominated South Africa since 1994 when Nelson Mandela was elected the first president after the collapse of minority-white rule under apartheid.

The current president, Thabo Mbeki, first tried to blame poverty for AIDS and refused to recognize it as a sexually transmitted disease. He has also declined to denounce authoritarian President Robert Mugabe, whose economic policies turned Zimbabwe from a bread basket to a basket case with 1,700 percent inflation.

In South Africa, unemployment is running at 40 percent, even as the economy is growing by about 5 percent a year.

“This is a dreadful statistic, and behind it lies millions of our people living in grinding poverty,” Mr. Leon said of the jobless rate. Many poor blacks live in shacks made of sheets of corrugated steel, cardboard and plastic.

“Our rates of violent crime are among the highest on Earth. We now have 18,528 murders a year, with a murder rate of 39.5 per 100,000 people a year. This is 10 times higher than the murder rate in the United States.”

He added that the homicide rate is down from 1994 when it was 25,000 a year, “but it is still appallingly high.”

“The fact is that most of our people live in fear,” he said, explaining that the poor, overwhelmingly black, are most victimized by crime, while many whites live in gated communities with security guards.

The public school system continues to fail its pupils, with only one in 100 going on to attend college, while the national education budget is one of the highest in the developing world, Mr. Leon said.

“AIDS has devastated our country like an ancient curse,” he said, explaining that the HIV virus, which usually leads to full-blown AIDS, has infected 11 percent of the whole population but 18 percent of those between 15 and 49 years old.

The ANC also imposes racial quotas to force businesses to hire employees based on their portion of the population. Whites make up 9 percent, but that number is falling. Nearly 800,000 whites have left South Africa since 1991.

Mr. Leon, who is a white, has been a lifelong opponent of apartheid.

“Those who fought for a new society did not dream of the watered-down, halfway complete, compromised democracy too many of our leaders seem content with today,” he said.

Off to Nigeria

The International Republican Institute organized a blue-ribbon delegation to send to Nigeria to observe the April 21 presidential and parliamentary elections, which have turned nasty before the first vote is cast.

The delegation, which leaves tomorrow, will be led by Ambassador Pierre-Richard Prosper, former U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes, Andras Gyurk, a Hungarian member of the European Parliament, and Abbe Apollinaire Muholongu Malumalu, president of the Independent Electoral Commission of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Opposition candidates are complaining that the ruling People’s Democratic Party has thrown up barriers to ensure its continued rule.

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