6 Reasons the US Needs to Keep the Focus on South Africa

Even with Nelson Mandela gone, the country remains an important ally of the United States.

South Africans pay tribute to South African President Nelson Mandela following his death in Johannesburg on Dec. 6, 2013.  ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images

This power positioning of the Southernmost African nation as the voice of the continent is relatively new, but South Africa has pulled it off in record speed. The ex-wife of President Jacob Zuma now heads the African Union, a position that solidifies South Africa as an important voice on the continent.

South Africa isn’t on the U.N. Security Council, but that’s not for lack of trying. President Zuma has given a number of impassioned speeches on the topic, and South Africa has made clear that it is not beholden to the council’s five permanent members—the United States, China, France, the United Kingdom and the Russian Federation—when it comes to voting at the General Assembly.

But it’s clear that South Africa has a voice of its own, and it’s one to which more and more world powers are listening.

3. The 2014 Election

The nation faces elections next year—and if the boos from the crowd at President Jacob Zuma during Mandela’s memorial are any indication, they’re going to be interesting.

Mandela’s African National Congress has dominated elections since 1994, but many South Africans today say they’re disappointed in the party. Part of their rancor comes from an investigation into Zuma’s alleged expenditure of more than $20 million in government funds to upgrade his personal home (with a swimming pool, a visitors’ pavilion, an amphitheater and a corral for cattle—all updates described by the Zuma camp as “security upgrades.”)

There is no clear inheritor of the ANC scepter but there has recently been a blossoming of political parties whose express intention, it seems, is to grab the baton. If a recent, riveting political debate on a local news channel is any indication, there are many issues to talk about: Inequality, racism and economics dominated as the able guests alternately debated and, at times, yelled at each other.

4. Now the Bad Things

South Africa is often called the rape capital of the world. It’s a moniker the country truly deserves—South African police documented more than 64,000 rapes last year. And it seems this cuts across social lines. A number of high-profile South Africans have been accused in court of rape: President Jacob Zuma, the leader of South Africa’s biggest trade union federation—even that guy accused of faking sign language a Mandela’s memorial.