Closing Thoughts on the Future

This book has examined how the post-apartheid government has influenced the prospects of South African women through its policies regarding macroeconomic growth and development, higher education, gender equality, and women’s empowerment. Each strategy has been considered a key driver in the creation of a new, democratic South Africa. As has been explored in previous chapters, the results have been mixed. So where does it all leave South Africa when it comes to moving forward? Where should the nation go in the future?

Future Prospects for Women in South Africa

In just a little more than two decades, South Africa has rewritten its constitution, revised its macroeconomic growth and development policies, restructured its higher education system, and made a commitment to providing opportunity for all its citizens—specifically those who have historically been marginalized, such as women and blacks. No other country has undertaken such transformation in such a relatively short period of time. As a result of such ambitious plans, many South Africans have looked to the future with hope and a sense of possibility for themselves and their families.

Yet 23 years after apartheid, that optimistic view is beginning to give way to frustration and anger. Many poor black South Africans still live in abject poverty, are unemployed, lack proper housing and other basic © The Author(s) 2017

D.E. Eynon, Women, Economic Development, and Higher Education, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-53144-1_9

services, and only continue to lose ground as the disparity between the rich and poor grows ever wider. The results of their frustration and anger can be seen in the escalating crime rates and daily public protests—as well as in the results of recent elections, which brought a shift in the political landscape and demands for new economic and social approaches.

There is a growing sense among South Africans that it is time for the government to stop talking about the promises of the constitution, laws, policies, and initiatives that it has put in place and to begin delivering on the basics—like decent housing and jobs. COSATU and the Communist Party were instrumental in Jacob Zuma’s elections—both in 2009 and most recently—and they continue to put pressure on the government to reconsider its macroeconomic growth and development policies.

In 2009, Trevor Sehoole, then department minister of higher education in South Africa’s Department of Education, stated, “There is a lot of expectation from the masses, from the working class, from the labor movement, and from the Communist Party that government should do away with some of the policies that were in place over the past 15 years and adopt new policies.”1 It still isn’t clear today what, if any, substantive changes have occurred during that period to make the country’s economic growth and development policies work for the masses.

A growing number of people are also concerned that Zuma is bringing a new conservatism to South Africa, in part based on his and his supporters’ behavior during presidential campaigns. For example, in the 2008 campaign, many viewed Zuma’s offering of prayers to ancestors, defense of polygamy as “African,” denouncement of same-sex marriage as a “disgrace to God,” and promise to bring back the death penalty as signs that he would move the country back to tribalism—and turn away from the concept of nation-building as defined in the country’s progressive constitution and laws.2 A shift to conservatism and tribalism could have significant ramifications for women, pushing back many of the advancements they have made in recent years and making it nearly impossible for black rural women to progress.

Moreover, as research repeatedly shows, South Africa continues to define and understand itself through a mostly racial lens, which limits the country’s ability to look at issues like gender, poverty, and class in a multidimensional way. To address the problems that South Africa faces, the country must find new ways of evaluating how they have occurred— making it clear that race isn’t the only source of tension in the country. For example, a gendered view of poverty, unemployment, and violence would help create a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the complexity and challenges that the country faces today.

Perhaps South Africans continue to define and understand themselves in racial terms because it is a familiar—and therefore comfortable—worldview. Achieving true transformation will require all South Africans to be the drivers of change, a position many have not been in before. As Elaine Salo, former director of gender studies at the University of Pretoria, explains it:

It’s having the willingness to confront the fear that challenge and growth brings. All of us, as South Africans, face that because our comfort zones are shifting. And change and transformation induces large-scale anxiety. It was bad before, and you didn’t like it, but at least you knew what it was. You knew what the parameters and borders were. But this, you don’t know what it is, and now you’re responsible for it. That can be scary.3

Any discussion about South Africa’s future must include the topic of HIV/AIDS. As the number of those infected only increases, the disease is taking an ever-growing toll on the country. The good news is that the Zuma and the ANC are now taking an aggressive approach to combat the pandemic after years of neglect and denial. Much work must be done, and organizations like the Ubuntu Education Fund are on the ground working to reverse the rate of infection through education, distribution of antiretroviral drugs, and new forums for people to discuss cultural attitudes about sex. Jacob Lief, the fund’s president, explains:

We quickly realized that the crucial question is how you keep the young mothers alive. The minute the mother dies, the child becomes that much more vulnerable—things lead to transactional sex, robbery, whatever it takes to survive, which is natural. We realized it was important to stabilize the home environment, and in our case, that was keeping a young mother alive.

A generation of mothers has been wiped out by HIV, so we got into HIV testing, treatment, and education.4

South Africa’s future will be influenced by how well the country is able to control the rate of infection and increase the number of people who can live with the virus. If current trends continue, the country may find the social, economic, and emotional toll too heavy to carry as current and future generations will pay with their lives. Such issues are certain to have an influence on South Africa in the near term.

Yet despite anxiety about such deep-seated problems and what the future may bring, people do remain cautiously optimistic. Says Nadine Petersen, professor of education at the University of Johannesburg:

I wouldn’t be in this country if I weren’t hopeful. I love my country. I love what I do. I love the contribution that I can make as a black woman teaching other students. Despite the gloomy picture I may have painted, I still think there are enormous possibilities in this country if we work toward achieving a particular goal. I see the hope that women carry at all levels of society and across all class levels. That gives me hope that we have the ability to force change, if necessary, where it needs to happen. Maybe that sounds idealistic. Things are not good, not by a long shot. It’s our responsibility to create that critical mass.5

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