Akpan Hogan Ekpo, Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Uyo University in Nigeria, talks about the state of democracy in South Africa 25 years after the end of apartheid.
The end of Apartheid spread hope in the entire sub-continent for peaceful liberation from oppression and transition to democracy. Now, 25 years later, how would you assess South Africa’s democracy?
In my view, the end of apartheid saw the end of decolonialization in the sub-continent and an end to white supremacy (policy of separation) in South Africa. Whether the end of apartheid has resulted in democracy properly defined is a challenge. Yes, there have been elections, after the apartheid regime but elections do not imply democracy. I think 25 years after the end of apartheid, democracy remains a work- in- progress in South Africa. Black majority rule is not tantamount to democracy. What has been demonstrated in South Africa is that after armed struggle for liberation, the people must continue to agitate for democracy if government of the people by the people and for the people must be the norm.
In 1994 many people hoped for a democratic and economically powerful South Africa as a stabilising actor on the sub-continent. How do you see South Africa’s influence on other African countries and especially on Nigeria today? Is South Africa a democratic role model?
South Africa remains one of the largest economies in the sub-continent. She has enormous natural and material resources and no doubt a strong economic power in the sub-continent. The influence is evidenced as regards perseverance and sustained struggle for emancipation. The holding of elections, the leadership of the ruling party (ANC) are worth emulating by other Africa countries. In South Africa, it seems the party organs are well respected and adhered to. It should be noted that South Africa had a settler white regime which is different from most other countries especially in West Africa. A settler regime comes with all its traditions, culture and innuendos with no plan of returning to the mother country. South Africa’s influence on the other countries derives from its economic base. South Africa is semi-industrialised. Hence, other countries can learn from South Africa. South Africa is a democratic role model for other countries particularly regarding change of leadership and peaceful resolution of internal crisis.
During Apartheid there was strong Nigerian solidarity with the struggle of the ANC. Since 1994 the two countries have oscillated between economic/ political rivalry and cooperation. How do you evaluate the relation between Nigeria and South Africa today?
During the apartheid regime, Nigeria was the only country in Africa described as a front-line state but outside the front-line countries. The support for the ANC by Nigeria was overwhelming. The Nigerian government contributed financially, materially and diplomatically to the struggle against apartheid. For example, all South African youths in Nigerian institutions of higher learning went to school for free and Nigerian workers sacrificed part of their monthly emoluments to the struggle. The National Committee Against Apartheid (NACAP) set up by the Federal Government of Nigeria propagated the evils of apartheid to all corners of Nigeria and the globe. Though relations deteriorated slightly years after the end of apartheid, both countries still have mutual and cordial relationship at the governmental level. However, most Nigerians are unhappy with the way Nigerians are treated in South Africa - xenophobia matter. Nigerians feel that the leadership in South Africa need to educate South Africans of the positive role Nigeria and indeed other African countries played during the Apartheid regime.
From your perspective, what are the most pressing issues in South Africa today, 25 years after the end of Apartheid?
The pressing issues include the high rate of unemployment especially among the youths. How to build an inclusive economy is another major challenge.