Ten years isn’t a very long time, but it’s hard to recall that South Africa became a democratic nation only 10 years ago.
Around that time, I traveled to South Africa reasonably regularly, too write about the transition and to attend various World Economic Forum events in Cape Town and Jo’burg. As a hopelessly sentimental person, my visits were always attended by a few occasions when the tears welled up.
Listening to an all-black chorus sing the dual national anthems: the Afrikaans Die Stem and the Xhosa Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika (Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika is surely the most moving national anthem going). Any occasion seeing Nelson Mandela (I’ve met a lot of famous people, but the only one I wish I had a photo with is Mandela. It would be like having a picture of yourself with Lincoln. One for the children, grandchildren and beyond). Seeing people I first met in grimy offices become major figures in the new South Africa.
I still think the peaceful transition in South Africa is one of the most remarkable stories of my lifetime, more amazing in its way than the largely nonviolent collapse of the Soviet Union.
Today’s South Africa certainly continues to have immense problems: rampant Aids (the greatest blot on Thabo Mbeki’s leadership), high crime levels and continuing flight of many of its best and brightest to Britain, the US and Australia. But the people of South Africa have also achieved something remarkable and worth celebrating: a truly democratic, stable, hopeful nation.
John Quiggin has one of the best analyses I’ve seen on the value of Google, which is being touted pre-IPO as $25 billion.
“The general problem is that, in an economy dominated by public goods, like that of the Internet, theres no reason to expect any relationship between economic value and capacity to raise revenue. Things of immense social value (this blog, for example!) are given away because theres no point doing anything else.”