South Africa's GDP shot up from $153bn in 1994 to $458bn in 2011 according to the World Bank but the Black natives feel excluded, / Photo: AFP

By Dayo Yusuf

Thirty years may not be a long time in a nation's history, but enough for it to signal a direction for the future.

In South Africa's case, the three decades since independence have been a windsock in many ways, encapsulating the trials and tribulations of a nation emerging from a tormented past to create a new socially inclusive, politically vibrant, and economically dynamic paradigm.

But how does this quest for a new, shared identity fit into the big picture of this diverse country's journey? The answer might lie in retracing the footsteps.

Investment in people

Development experts acknowledge that for all the political changes that have come about in this constitutional democracy, the one constant has been the joint endeavour of successive dispensations to lift the country from poverty, primarily by investing in its people.

"A key investment in education has been the establishment of Schools of Specialisation, which are the first of their kind in the country," Aluwani Chokoe, spokesperson for the Youth ICT Council, a non-governmental organisation that advocates increased youth participation in economic activity, tells TRT Afrika.

"These schools go beyond the standard curriculum, enabling learners to specialise in maths, science, information and communication technology, engineering, commerce and entrepreneurship; sport, and performing and creative arts."

But despite parallel desegregation measures, black South Africans seem to lag in school uptake, affecting job distribution countrywide.

"Young people are fighting for access to education and opportunities to better their lives, and governments have been trying to address this through policies and programmes over the past 30 years," says Aluwani.

South African will go to the polls for the seventh time since gaining independence in 1994 on May 29. Photo: AP

President Cyril Ramaphosa has also acknowledged that the country remains 'highly unequal' in terms of wealth distribution but it has made progress in various areas since the end of apartheid.

Economic trajectory

"Despite great progress, many households do not have electricity or clean water,'' Ramaphosa said in a speech marking the 30th anniversary at the end of April.

South Africa's economy has grown significantly since the end of apartheid and the lifting of international economic sanctions.

World Bank data shows that the country's GDP shot up from $153bn in 1994 to $458bn in 2011, a phenomenal growth in just the first ten years since independence.

President Cyril Ramaphosa will be seeking a second term in a general election due this year. Photo / AA

While the growth trajectory has stayed the course, the pace has gradually slowed due to other emerging factors.

As the country goes into elections this year, young people want sweeping changes to get the country back on track.

"A recent report points out that despite the numerous challenges the country faces, the economy attracted almost 100 billion rand in foreign direct investment inflows in 2023, equal to 1.4% of GDP," explains Aluwani.

"We want to see efforts to halt the deterioration in service delivery in townships and informal settlements across the metros. Also, crippling unemployment and crime. South Africans want a thriving democratic society and a capable developmental state."

Past wounds

South Africa is still among the more economically unequal societies in the world according to analysts. Photo: AFP

Despite economic growth and a significant increase in the country's GDP, the majority of Black South Africans still get a lesser share of the national pie.

"South Africa is still among the more economically unequal societies in the world, evidenced by several factors. This is despite policies and affirmative action. There's still minimal representation of the historically disadvantaged black majority in the economy," says Aluwani.

According to her, there will always be discord between races as long as there are still elements that believe some are better than the rest. "There are opponents of democracy that perpetually refuse to recognise black South Africans as equal participants both in society and in the economy."

Thankfully, this mindset is gradually dissipating. Younger generations are more concerned about a brighter future for South Africa than the much older generations, which are still healing from the wounds of the past.

Aluwani points out that both needs must be in sync for more significant growth.

‘’In every society, there is a healthy tension between the accomplishments and achievements of the previous generation and the dreams and aspirations of the upcoming generation. Successful societies are those that have managed to harness this tension positively towards achieving their developmental objectives," she tells TRT Afrika.

On May 29, South Africa will go to the polls for the seventh time to elect a democratic government that reflects what is popularly called a rainbow nation or a country for all.

The question remains: will those that the electorate picks marshal the country further forward or keep fighting demons of the past and present?

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TRT Afrika