Thirty years ago, the most rigidly implemented segregationist regime modern history has known became a democracy, with high hopes and heady expectations. These days, South Africa is more likely to generate headlines for drought, crime, corruption or infrastructure decay. But what’s really become of the country’s democratic transition three decades after apartheid? Have its leaders let down its people’s hopes? Is that question the right one even to be asking? And what can post-apartheid South Africa teach the rest of the world about how to go about assessing democratic development in an atmosphere of pervasive disillusionment about democracy and a sense that global democratic backsliding is all-but inevitable?
Former fellow Eve Fairbanks—a journalist whose intimate narrative about apartheid’s aftermath, The Inheritors, was published this month to critical acclaim—discussed South Africa together in a webinar cohosted by ICWA and Network 20/20 on July 28. Joining her were two more leading experts with unique perspectives: Palesa Morudu, co-founder of the South African publisher Cover2Cover and a leading political columnist for the newspaper Business Day; and Evan Lieberman, director of MIT’s Global Diversity Lab and author of the new, seminal international-relations study Until We Have Won Our Liberty: South Africa After Apartheid.
Eve Fairbanks is a former ICWA fellow who writes about change: in cities, countries, landscapes, morals, values and our ideas of ourselves. A former political writer for The New Republic, her essays and reportage have been published in The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Guardian, among other outlets. Born in Virginia, she now lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. The Inheritors is her debut book.
Palesa Morudu is a writer and director of the editorial services company Clarity Editorial. Her extensive experience in marketing and communications includes previous positions as head of marketing and communications at Robben Island Museum; sales and marketing director at AllAfrica Global Media in Washington, DC; deputy director at the Government Communication and Information Services; and responsibility for the Brand South Africa portfolio at Kagiso Media. She holds an Honors Degree in International Relations from Rhodes University and writes a twice monthly column for Business Day.
Evan Lieberman, director of MIT’s Global Diversity Lab and author of the new, seminal international-relations study Until We Have Won Our Liberty: South Africa After Apartheid. He is the Total Professor of Political Science and Contemporary Africa at MIT, where he conducts research in the field of comparative politics with a focus on development and ethnic conflict in sub-Saharan Africa. He also directs MIT’s global experiential learning program MISTI. Lieberman received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.
Top photo: A memorial to Nelson Mandela in Port Elizabeth, South Africa (Suzi-k, Wikimedia Commons)