The horror stories about life in South Africa under apartheid are endless, of course, and the fall of that morally repugnant political system is universally hailed as a triumph.
But two decades after the white-led government relinquished power, and especially in the afterglow of worldwide praise for the nation's former president Nelson Mandela after his passing at age 95, an objective look at South Africa today is very disturbing.
In fact, even among the harshest critics of apartheid and racial oppression, there is an acknowledgement that in many ways the "rainbow nation," under African National Congress and South African Communist Party rule, is heading downhill.
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"What I said during my several visits to South Africa, during the era of apartheid, is that blacks weren't for personal liberty; they mostly wanted to change the color of the dictator," George Mason University Economics Professor Walter Williams, who studied the apartheid system, told WND.
Mandela's recent death prompted analysts immediately to opine that South Africa is facing a fork in the road that will define it for generations to come: an acceleration of the ongoing shift toward tyranny, or not.
"This is the first time I have felt anxious about the future," admitted Leon Louw, a prominent anti-apartheid activist and executive director of the South Africa-based Free Market Foundation. He told WND that throughout all of the turmoil in South Africa in recent decades, "We never felt pessimistic, we felt optimistic all along, but now, I feel worried for the first time."
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Today, he said, "most government positions, most of the cabinet are … the ultra-left, socialists and communists."
That some things are better than under apartheid is not disputed. Many more blacks are in the middle and upper classes and the standard of living has improved for millions since the revolutionary 1994 events.
But still, unemployment, poverty, AIDS, murder, corruption and crime all have surged, and South Africa now regularly tops the charts worldwide in terms of rape and murder as average life expectancy has plummeted. Also troubling to broad swaths of the public, as well as many analysts and economists, is the direction government and society itself are heading.
President Jacob Zuma, for example, still regularly sings "struggle" songs advocating the mass-murder of European-descent South Africans. And genocide experts even say planning and preparations to exterminate and drive out certain minorities in South Africa are well under way while vicious hate crimes escalate, as WND has reported.
What, then, is the status of South Africa as its leftist leaders move ahead in a world without the influence of Mandela for the first time in generations?
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Officially, about 25 percent of South Africans are out of work, double that from 1994. If one counts "discouraged workers," the real rate is closer to 40 percent.
Experts who spoke with WND pointed out that official figures do not tell the whole picture because large numbers of South Africans work outside the formal economy, at least partly due to burdensome government labor-market regulations.
However, there is little doubt that the nation has a massive and chronic unemployment problem affecting all races, and especially blacks, despite intensifying "black economic empowerment" schemes.
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Since the end of apartheid in 1994, on the surface at least, it would appear economic conditions in South Africa have improved substantially. The real Gross Domestic Product, for instance, has risen by more than 30 percent over the last 20 years.
But the fact that the real GDP-per-capita growth for other emerging markets during that time was 115 percent sheds light on South Africa's deficiencies.
Shortly after the fall of apartheid, South Africa did see some moderate economic growth, at least compared with the previous decade of civil turmoil and punishing foreign sanctions.
The growth phenomenon was largely attributed by economists to an influx of foreign investment, relaxation of draconian race-based economic restrictions imposed under white rule and an end to harsh foreign sanctions aimed at the apartheid government.
"To my mind, the main reason for the improvement in South Africa's growth performance after 1994 lies in the lifting of economic sanctions and the subsequent reintegration of the South African economy with the global economy," says Jac Laubscher, group economist for the South African financial company Sanlam.
Louw, the Free Market Foundation chief, argues there is no debate: The vast majority is now better off, despite some individually troubling scenarios.
He said the South African government is "very peculiar" in that it constantly harps on how bad things are in its nation, noting, "All of that is an excuse for more power, more intervention, more patronage, more racial, race-based policies."
He called the sometimes-government-propagated insinuations that life for blacks was better under apartheid "implausible" and "extremely bizarre."
One of the most important measurements in analyzing the question, he said, was the proportion of blacks with incomes above the white average, which he said "certainly tells a very different story."
In 1994, Louw explained, about 200,000 blacks had incomes higher than the average whites. Now, that figure is closer to three million, even though white incomes have gone up drastically in real terms, too, he said.
The other side
But other indicators suggest something else.
Between 1995 and 2000, for example, the respected U.S.-based National Bureau of Economic Research found a dramatic decline in real income among South Africans.
"Average incomes of South African men and women fell by about 40 percent between 1995 and 2000, and ... there has been little improvement since then," concluded the NBER study, released in 2005. "The brunt of the income decline appears to have been shouldered by the young and the non-white."
"South Africans are worse off than they were before the end of apartheid, at least as measured by real incomes," the researchers argued at the time, noting the poor were hit hardest.
Meanwhile, statistics cited by other experts suggest that by 2006, the number of people in South Africa living on less than $1 per day had doubled over the 1994 rate.
And in 2008, the United Nations reported that a quarter of South Africans were still living on less than $1.25 a day, with more than 40 percent living on less than $2 per day.
Quality of life
Ironically, perhaps, considering the oversized influence of communism on the political scene, South Africa now has among the most unequal distributions of wealth in the world.
Mandela, the first president of the "rainbow nation," was a Central Committee member of the South African Communist Party, which remains a formal ANC alliance partner in ruling South Africa today.
While many experts and especially economists warn that measures of income equality are counterproductive, the dramatic and growing disparities are trumpeted by Marxists and big-government proponents within and outside of South Africa calling for even more drastic state control over the economy.
The U.N. Human Development Index, or HDI, reveals a bleak picture in terms of where South Africa has gone over the last two decades.
Prior to 1994, despite apartheid, South Africa's HDI ranking was steadily climbing upward, and the nation was ranked well above most of Asia and the Arab world, and far ahead the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa. It was also higher than the world average.
But by 2001, South Africa's HDI score had fallen below the 1975 level.
Today, the ranking – which takes into account life expectancy, health, education, income, poverty, economy, equality and more – is 121 out of 187 countries, and significantly below the world average.
Under ANC-Communist Party rule, South Africa has fallen more than 50 places on the index, despite the added emphasis the ruling establishment placed on the metric. Officials still blame apartheid for the embarrassing numbers.
While access to decent housing, electricity and running water has expanded significantly since 1994, huge swaths of the population still live in shanty towns, and progress toward relieving poverty has largely slowed over the last decade.
There are positive indicators, with anecdotal evidence of prosperity, including having among the highest levels of active cell phones in the world. On the other hand, metrics such as life expectancy and health paint a darker picture.
Between 1960 and 1990, overall life expectancy in South Africa went from 51 to 61. While whites were still far better off, historian and apartheid critic Hermann Giliomee explained that racial gaps had started to narrow.
In 1994, average life expectancy in South Africa was generally accepted to be around 64, comparable to Europe.
By 2009, according to The Lancet journal, average life expectancy had plummeted back to 54. Today, the U.N. puts it at 53.4.
The global average, by contrast, was 70 in 2011, according to the World Health Organization.
Part of the spectacular decline is attributed to the fact that South Africa in 2013 suffers from among the worst rates of AIDS on earth, too; often being dubbed the "AIDS capital of the world."
Other diseases also pose problems.
How bad is it really?
Louw said both the left and right have an agenda in making South Africa appear worse off than it is.
Forces on the right, he said, want to make the current regime and leftists in general look bad, and some also have a "racial agenda – blacks can't govern, that sort of thing."
"The agenda on the left is toward more socialism, bigger government, more nationalization, more retribution against whites, and so on," Louw said. "It is interesting to see the right and the left have this very bizarre, unusual common interest in simply falsifying data."
Indeed, despite claims and anecdotal evidence to the contrary, Louw said it is an "objective fact" and "not debatable" that blacks as a whole are better off, even economically, now than under apartheid.
Crime, corruption, racism
One of the worst plagues to wreak havoc in 2013 South Africa is violent crime, with the nation now widely lambasted as the rape and murder capital of the world.
"The objective data all points to a massive rise in crime," said Louw. "The anecdotal data does the same; people are nervous, people don't walk around the streets at night, and everybody knows somebody who has been carjacked, or robbed, or brutalized, or even killed.
"This is a simple manifestation of the breakdown of the state," he said. "Government is just appallingly bad at everything it does: education, healthcare, infrastructure, security, everything that is a government function is in shambles."
He told the story of a man who was found dead in his car. Everyone at the scene "spontaneously started grabbing his valuables and putting them in the trunk of the nearest car," Louw explained.
"Everybody assumed that a complete stranger was safer than the police for this person's valuables," Louw said, noting that he returned the items to the man's grateful family later.
"The police are inefficient, they are corrupt, they run the roadblocks that are kind of the modern version of highway robbery – collecting what I call 'formal' and 'informal' fines," he added.
Official estimates suggest that between 15,000 and 20,000 people are murdered each year in South Africa, about 50 murders per day, or around 31 per 100,000 individuals over the year.
In reality, international organizations such as Interpol have argued that the real murder rates are likely twice as high as South African authorities admit.
Anecdotal evidence, especially when it comes to murders of Afrikaner farmers, also very strongly suggests that officials are dramatically understating the extent of the killings.
South African-born Ilana Mercer, author of "Into the Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons for America from Post-Apartheid South Africa," noted that Mandela's presidency led to a society where "more people are murdered in one week under African rule than died under the detention of the Afrikaner government over the course of roughly four decades."
Ironically, depending on whose figures can be believed, South Africa, with its strict gun-control regime, has a murder rate in the neighborhood of 1,000 percent higher than in the United States.
Rape numbers also drastically underestimate the real prevalence, experts say, and show that South Africa recorded more than 132.4 rapes per 100,000 people in 2010 – the worst in the world. The official U.S. rate is less than 27 per 100,000, according to the FBI.
Other evidence indicates the true figures for South Africa are far higher.
A study conducted by the Medical Research Council, for example, found that more than one in four South African men – 27.5 percent – admitted to having raped at least one woman or girl. Almost half of those said they had raped multiple victims.
Another survey by the same organization later found that 37.4 percent of men admitted to perpetrating a rape, with more than one in four women saying they had been raped.
"Most people don't bother to report crimes," said Louw. "This is a manifestation of the failure of government, and that is basically true of everything the government does."
Widely cited estimates suggest some 500,000 rapes occur in South Africa every year.
But few perpetrators are convicted. Indeed, on corruption, South Africa ranks at 72nd place worldwide on the Transparency International index, earning a 42 out of a possible 100 (with 100 being the cleanest).
The police force, packed with actual convicted criminals, is viewed as the most corrupted institution.
Despite the dream of a "rainbow nation," polls and surveys suggest that racism and de facto segregation remain widespread in South Africa, which experts say is driven in large part by government and politics.
Critics of the ANC-SACP regime say racial tensions are certainly not eased when Zuma and other top officials publicly sing "struggle" songs at political rallies about massacring whites with machine guns – especially considering the many thousands of European-descent farmers and family members brutally slaughtered by blacks since 1994.
Dr. Gregory Stanton, head of Genocide Watch and a man who personally fought against the apartheid system, warned last year that South Africa was at Stage 6 out of 8 on the road to genocide: the planning and preparation phase.
"There is thus strong circumstantial evidence of government support for the campaign of forced displacement and atrocities against white farmers and their families," said Stanton, after a fact-finding mission to South Africa last year. "There is direct evidence of government incitement to genocide."
The end goal is to impose communist tyranny on South Africa, Stanton argued.
While blacks suffered under official racism during apartheid, the reverse is now true, many experts and Afrikaners say, with whites and mixed-race individuals being targeted by race-based so-called "black empowerment" legislation in everything from employment and business to welfare and charity.
Think "affirmative action" for the majority – on steroids.
Some 90 percent or more of government workers are black, well above their ratio in the population, and virtually all of the welfare and housing grants go to blacks as well, critics point out. So, the racial quotas go only in one direction.
A poll taken last year, almost two decades after apartheid, showed that more than 80 percent of blacks still believe blacks in South Africa are poor because of the former regime.
Incredibly, polls taken about a decade after the fall of apartheid showed that some 60 percent of South Africans felt the country was better managed under the previous, white-led regime.
"It's not that they want to return to apartheid, but in retrospect it was a time when trains ran on time," poll director Robert Mattes was quoted as saying in 2002 media reports from South Africa. "It was a harsh, repressive, but seemingly efficient government."
It was not clear whether more recent polls had been conducted on the subject, but the results of the 2002 survey sent shock waves around the world.
Still today, despite the ANC and SACP stranglehold on power, some of the most prominent figures in South Africa publicly acknowledge it.
"This government, our government, is worse than the apartheid government, because at least you were expecting it with the apartheid government," claimed Bishop Desmond Tutu after the ANC-SACP government, under pressure from communist China, refused to grant a visa to the Dalai Lama.
In recent months, one of the most extreme figures in South African politics, Marxist and virulent racist Julius Malema, the former ANC youth leader, also claimed that the current regime was worse than apartheid.
"Our people did not die for a house that will not last for three months," he argued, suggesting that government ought to be building houses, in line with his new political party's plan for full-blown socialist rule and nationalization. "There is nothing dignified about the houses."
Malema, also known as "Juju," ended his speech by singing the infamous "struggle" song advocating the slaughter of white farmers, a common theme among his new "Economic Freedom Fighters" party, widely viewed as an ANC spinoff.
"Robert Mugabe is a great example of what you must do, with some lessons of course," Malema was quoted as saying recently.
Marxist despot Mugabe in Zimbabwe, of course, tortured, murdered and butchered his opponents, including white farmers, who were driven out of the country or killed. While it used to export food, Zimbabwe now is dependent on food aid.
Today, virtually nobody in South Africa or abroad seriously believes a return to often-brutal racial segregation and apartheid rule is feasible, much less desirable.
However, discontent over South Africa's current trajectory is intensifying, as illustrated recently when South Africans loudly booed their president on the world stage at Mandela's memorial service.
A widely reprinted letter that originally appeared in the Business Day newspaper also highlighted the feelings of despair.
"South Africa is in a serious moral crisis. We are a violent society disintegrating by the day. Ghastly murders are committed daily," wrote Farouk Araie from Johannesburg. "We have become delusional. Forgetting that life is absolutely intrinsic and inviolable, our country is awash with demonic monsters in human garb, savages fit only for the wild, and satanic beasts ill-equipped for civil society.
"One child raped every three minutes, three children murdered each day," Araie added. "We are sliding towards the edge of the abyss and our people are crying out for sanity to prevail."
Experts and commentators are divided on why "democracy" did not instantly bring the widely anticipated super-boom in prosperity and societal harmony.
But with white supremacists claiming blacks are to blame and black supremacists claiming whites are to blame, there appears to be little middle ground on which to build.
Many economists, though, say government policies explain the situation.
"The benefits of liberty and protected private property rights are often lost in discussions of how our blessings can be extended to the world's poor nations," explained Walter Williams, the celebrated George Mason University Economics Professor and syndicated columnist. He authored the 1989 book "South Africa's War on Capitalism," arguing that the apartheid system represented socialistic forces.
"We often hear suggestions that it is natural resources, right population size, or geographic location that explains human betterment," Williams noted.
"The United States and Canada are population scarce and have a rich endowment of natural resources and are wealthy," he added. "However, if natural resources and population scarcity were adequate explanations of wealth, then one would expect that the resource rich and some of the population scarce countries on the continents of Africa and South America to be wealthy. Instead, Africa and South America are home to the world's poorest and most miserable people.
"A far better explanation of wealth has to do with cultural values that support liberty," the internationally respected economist explained.
"People in countries with larger amounts of economic freedom, such as the United States, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan are far richer and have greater human rights protections than people in countries with limited free markets such as Russia, Albania, China and most countries in Africa and South America," Williams concluded.
Leon Louw, who leads one of the most influential think tanks in Africa, echoed those sentiments, saying what South Africa really needs is economic freedom and the rule of law.
"Democracy, in and of itself, is no solution," he told WND in an extended interview. "What is important is checks and balances, separation of powers, which has virtually vanished in South Africa. We now have basically the executive doing everything – writing the law and adjudicating. The legislature and the judiciary have been rendered increasingly redundant. And we don't have real law … we have discretionary power, which is the main reason why we have this corruption."