Past event at the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS): “South Africa at a crossroads, lost opportunities and new realities”

DIIS 22 February 2016, 10:00 a.m., Danish Institute for International Studies, Auditorium, Gl. Kalkbrænderi Vej 51A – 2100 Copenhagen


In the immediate post-apartheid period, South Africa experienced high growth rates, and the governing party, ANC, administered the new democracy faithful to the human rights ideals of Nelson Mandela. In many ways South Africa was seen as a success story with an impact not just on the region, but on the whole of Sub Saharan Africa. Looking at present day South Africa the picture is less rosy, and there is much speculation what South Africa’s future looks like in view of the many lost opportunities.

The economy has turned out to be vulnerable to the global economic crisis and lately in particular to the Chinese recession resulting in a drastic fall of the Rand. Numerous strikes within the important mining sector have pointed to substantial weaknesses of the labour market. In many ways this reflects serious tensions in society manifested by high youth unemployment and an awareness of increasing inequality.

Internationally, South Africa has established itself as an influential international actor, especially in Africa, based on its size, population, economic strength and military capabilities, but also as an international norm entrepreneur defending human rights. However, currently South Africa’s domestic problems and ambiguous foreign political agenda is challenging South Africa’s role as a hegemon in Africa.

The question has been asked whether Mandela’s rainbow nation is sustainable, and whether the ANC government is capable of moving South Africa forward.

In the seminar the two speakers Jeffrey Herbst  and Greg Mills presented their new book How South Africa Works and Must Do Better (to be published in February by Hurst/Oxford University Press) where they raise the questions: what has gone wrong, and how can it be better? In  a major survey based on a number of case studies they look at past and present South Africa analysing  the shortcomings of the educational system, poor governance, failures of business to work with the political agenda etc. And they suggest ways to move forward by offering an agenda how to address the many challenges a head, not least youth unemployment. “If the current unemployment challenge is not addressed, it will be impossible to sustainably lift many millions of people out of poverty”.


Nanna HVIDT, Director, DIIS
Jeffrey HERBST, president and CEO of the Newseum and the Newseum Institute
Greg MILLS, Director of The Brenthurst Foundation
Peter ALBRECHT, Senior Analyst, DIIS

More information can be found here.