South Africa's hopeful dream slow to arrive Book: Despite a raft of worries -- including crime, corruption and incompetence -- residents find ample reason for optimism, two authors write.

Sun Journal

October 16, 1998|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Americans are not the only ones with a national dream. The South Africans, in their majority-ruled nation, have started dreaming, too.

"The South African dream exists and is every bit as big and impressive" as the American dream, contend the authors of a new book, titled simply "The South African Dream."

"Reveal the dream, and the nation itself stands revealed," write John Hunt and Reg Lascaris, who base their assertions on a public survey of South Africans' aspirations -- and fears -- and a slew of interviews with influential personalities.

Early in the book, they confess that crime, corruption and incompetence are so widespread that the dream frequently seems likely to turn into a nightmare. But in the end they emerge optimistic.

The land of racial segregation now dreams of racial harmony. The land of white supremacy now dreams of equal opportunity. The land of institutionalized misery now dreams of unfettered happiness. The land of millions of homeless now dreams of decent housing. The land of high unemployment -- over 20 percent -- dreams of jobs for all, even if a secure job with prospects in a shrinking economy has itself "taken on a dreamlike quality."

Hardly surprisingly, 71 percent of those surveyed felt the South African dream has yet to be realized, although a reassuring two out of three felt it one day will be.

"One encounters a feeling that dreaming is an act of affirmation and that a set of national aspirations is essential if we are to get anywhere as a people," write the authors. "However, dreams are not expected to be realized overnight. It turns out that South Africans dream in the long-term."

As they must. For now, violent crime continues to hold society in fear. With 18,000 murders, 67,000 business burglaries, 183,000 house break-ins, 37,000 aggravated robberies and 100,637 vehicles stolen last year, South Africa has earned an international reputation for violence, which hinders foreign investment and tourism.

This week, a father whose 29-year-old son, a pilot with South African Airways, was hijacked, shot in the head and left for dead, wrote an angry, open letter to the government:

"Have you any idea of the pain, suffering and sheer hell [my son] suffered? Have you any idea of what this deliberate act of attempted murder has done to the hundreds of people living through the horror with my son and my family? It will be my mission to ensure coverage by my friends in the media in Europe, England and America.

"This may not bother you because your affiliations are with other regimes in Africa, the Middle East and, of course, Cuba, but it may bring home to potential visitors and tourists the danger of a cheap South African holiday: It may cost you your life. Stay away!"

Such bitterness reflects widespread public feeling -- shared by blacks and whites -- that the government has failed to crack down on crime, showing as much, or more, concern for the rights of criminals as for the pain of victims.

Blacks are more likely than whites to be victims of crime, according to a recent survey by the Institute for Security Studies. It found that, even inside their homes, 56.5 percent of blacks feel insecure, against 38.1 percent of whites, who frequently have high walls, weapons, guard dogs and armed patrols between them and the outside world. In Johannesburg, two out of three residents report experience of crime.

Hunt and Lascaris suggest that the South African government, rooted in the anti-apartheid liberation movement, was unable to transform itself into "gung-ho crime fighters without adopting the tactics of state coercion it has so thoroughly rejected."

Government officials claim to be making headway in the fight against crime, but the results are hard to perceive with daily reports of murder, rape, robberies and hijackings.

Other problems impede realization of the dream. The economy is caught up in the global nose-dive. Industry keeps shedding jobs. Since the 1994 election, 500,000 secure jobs have been lost, according to Statistics South Africa, while the lower-paying informal sector -- the self-employed, ranging from street hawkers to casual laborers -- has grown by 600,000.

Moreover, standards generally are seen to be slipping in education, the civil service, the courts -- even in street cleaning.

So deeply ingrained has pessimism become that researchers of "The South African Dream" had to reject 16 percent of their potential interviewees because they simply refused to dream at all.

"These South Africans had no problem with the theory of a South African Dream," says the book. "But in practice they were not prepared to give it a try. They were fed up and did not want to

look up at the horizon in case there wasn't one."

A recent survey by the Sunday Times newspaper found that 74 percent of respondents were considering emigrating. This prompted President Nelson Mandela to say, "Good riddance."

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