With the passing of Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first democratically-elected president, Americans have tried to understand what he meant for that country, and for the world. While some are drawn to Mandela’s role as a leader in the struggle against apartheid and the peaceful transition to constitutional democracy, others recoil at his socialist ideology and past use of violence, as well as South Africa’s enduring problems. The following are ten key facts about South Africa that provide a balanced perspective on its progress in two decades of democracy.
1. Race relations are dramatically better. Mandela brought South Africa from the brink of civil war to a unity that was once unthinkable. Politicians continue to exploit race, but everyday relations among members of the “Rainbow Nation” are good, though some grievances remain. An entire generation has grown up with no direct experience of apartheid, and against the backdrop of a vibrant cultural cross-pollination. One problem is the position of the formerly dominant Afrikaans-speaking minority, whose language is being pushed aside.