Despite the challenges South Africa now faces, “I would much rather the country be where it is now than where it was 20 years ago said,” Jean-Germain Gros, professor at UM-St. Louis.

Speaking at the World Affairs Council of St. Louis’ Great Decision Series on April 19, Professor Gros noted the challenges facing that country:

  • Corruption to the point where the country is in peril of “state capture,” where elites essentially are in charge.
  • Economic inequality, not along racial lines but to the extent that a middle class, considered by most to be necessary for democracy, no longer exists.
  • Political challenges: “The ANC was defined by its opposition to white rule, and had to operate in secrecy,” Professor Gros said.  “That was fine when it was a revolutionary party.  Unfortunately, it continues to govern like a revolutionary party; people are chosen not through primaries but by what the  high political officials have decided.”  He noted “what you have in the ANC is loyalty and zeal, but not competence or clean dealing. The ANC continues to function as a clandestine party.”
  • Urban/Rural divisions, where the ANC is losing support in urban areas but strong in rural areas. “South Africa may be about to be split between the two,” he noted.

Despite the challenges, Professor Gros said he is “fairly optimistic in spite of these challenges that South Africa is not about to backslide.”  He credits a free and vibrant press, energetic debates in Parliament and a fiercely independent judiciary.”

As a global stage, Professor Gros noted South Africa, and all of Africa, are seeing a huge influx of Chinese capital and labor, with the U.S. barely being present.  “The U.S. will provide assistance, but with many strings attached.”  Meanwhile, Chinese workers and investors are very visible and engaged.

The next presentation in WAC-STL’s Great Decisions Lecture Series is focused on Global Health: Progress and Challenges presented by Dr. Matthew Gabel of Washington University in St. Louis. The final Great Decisions Lecture is on Wednesday, April 25th.  Mark your calendars!

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