Post-Mandela South Africa Is a Nation on Edge

Recent elections exposed a weakening ANC, with an embattled president and an economy no longer pre-eminent on the continent.


The takeaway from this election is an unmistakably rich and suspicious search for the next Mandela. White politicos are furiously beefing up the Democratic Alliance’s “multicultural” street cred as a South African future, with focus on black rising stars like former parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko (who recently resigned to pursue studies at Harvard, although rumors of her internal DA troubles abound) and the energetic anti-Zuma, Mmusi Maimane. Maimane is seen as the great black hope by DA strategists who have branded him the Obama of South Africa.  

To Maimane’s extreme left is ANC outcast Julius Malema, heading the upstart Economic Freedom Fighters. Once on the margins, this election put EFF on the map with an impressive 6 percent voter share.

Hence, Afrikaners are transitioning from the resentful go-along-to-get-along Mandela-age compromise to the shrewd survival imperative of coalition politics. Many whites obviously don’t want to leave South Africa—but many who are filling the ranks of South Africa’s poor actually can’t. That’s leading prominent white experts, like geopolitical forecaster Frans Cronje, to start gaming scenarios of a country on the verge of turning into a violent brush fire called Zimbabwe.   

Doubt is settling into South Africa. The socioeconomic climate is peppered with violent crime and ruled by nonstop striking from black workers who mine the country’s highly valuable mineral deposits. And many South African whites, who once enjoyed the fruits of white supremacist apartheid excess, appear rushed in an effort to align themselves with jaded black political interests willing to try something new. You can’t beat them anymore, so now you join them. In the meantime, Zuma will need to refresh or step aside before a slow-growing ANC implosion turns into a fast-moving national meltdown.

Charles D. Ellison is a veteran political strategist and regular contributor to The Root. He is also Washington correspondent for the Philadelphia Tribune and chief political correspondent for Uptown magazine. Follow him on Twitter.