Traffic on the N1 between Pretoria and Johannesburg in South Africa

Political situation Reform process under way

After decades of being shunned, South Africa held free and universal elections in 1994, ushering in its return to the international community. Nelson Mandela, who epitomised the struggle against the apartheid system, became the country’s first black president. The work done by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission helping the country come to terms with its bitter past has earned huge international recognition.

The African National Congress (ANC) has been in government since 1994. Whilst its share of the vote fell at the country’s sixth round of free parliamentary elections in May 2019, it still emerged with an absolute majority. On 22 May 2019, ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa was elected President of South Africa. He had already been interim president since February 2018, following the resignation of Jacob Zuma in reaction to pressure from within his own party.

Corruption had increased significantly under Zuma; political decision-making processes had been subject to massive influence from private interests and were characterised by the illegal use of resources for personal gain. These targeted efforts to undermine government authority were a substantial factor in the deterioration of the economic environment.

In 2018, Zuma’s successor Ramaphosa put forward an ambitious package of reforms. Plans included investment in infrastructure and rural areas. Yet regaining the confidence of potential investors has proved a slow process for the government. Reforms are making slow progress and any economic upswing is still to be seen. The COVID-19 pandemic further increased the pressure on the economy.

International involvement

South Africa today plays a leading political and economic role within Africa. It has been involved in efforts to resolve Africa’s internal conflicts and to strengthen regional organisations like the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Within the global economy, South Africa acts as a bridge between industrialised and developing countries. In international organisations such as the United Nations, the G20 and the World Trade Organization (WTO), the country sees itself as a champion of African interests. In 2023, South Africa held the presidency for the BRICS nations (an informal group of emerging economies).

As at: 25/08/2023