We were all sad to learn that Nelson Mandela passed away. It had been fairly clear to most for some time that his health was in decline. The longtime civil rights and political leader will be mostly remembered for his contributions to the ending of Apartheid in South Africa. But, he should also be remembered for his contributions to transitioning the economy of South Africa from its intense segregation to one with equal freedoms and sustained growth.
It wasn’t that long ago that South Africa had segregated its population in ways Americans couldn’t even understand. Many we’re forced to move from their homes in order to live in different “homelands” which were regions of the country with people from the same ethnic group. Imagine if we gathered up every Mexican and forced them to live in Utah so they would be out of our way. Needless to say the various “homelands” and very wide degrees of economic prosperity and government support.
The policies of Apartheid profoundly affected the economy. Mandela was a leader in ending Apartheid but when he was elected president he knew he now had to also transition the economy away from its segregated past. This included opening up the borders of the homelands and eliminating the restrictions some of the classes had on employment and investment. Economic growth picked up quickly during Mandela’s tenure and today South Africa is the largest economy in Africa.
This economic growth has not benefited everyone equally of course. While segregation is gone, income inequality is still very present, and huge. Incomes have grown faster for previously discriminated groups, but they have a long way to go in order to catch up to the white South Africans. This is visible in just about every measure of economic achievement, including having electricity. Unemployment remains high but the economic growth of the country has spilled over to the entire region. And, with economic growth also comes improving health and education.
Mandela will be remembered most for what he did in the events leading up to the ending of Apartheid. But, his leadership in taking South Africa’s economy from its horrid past to its optimistic future is a legacy all its own.
Read: Remembering Nelson Mandela’s Unsung Economic Legacy (Yahoo! Finance)