South Africa is a black-majority country and southernmost of the nation-states of Africa. It was ruled for decades under an apartheid regime where whites dominated the centers of power and effectively ruled over the country's black population. The country had been ruled in some colonial form or another by the Dutch and the British, where it was acknowledged as the Union of South Africa in 1909. It was granted independence by an act of the British parliament in 1931. Over the years, successive governments reinforced previous segregation laws passed during Dutch and British colonial rule, vesting a high standard of living to whites and a destitute one for the country's much larger black population. The country seceded from the Crown and declared itself a republic, though this term was viewed cynically by many activists. It was only in 1990 that opposition parties, and especially the anti-apartheid African National Congress, were permitted to hold activities.
Following the fall of apartheid, South Africa has been seen as a unique case study for transition to democracy, balancing what would be a restructuring of South African society with the need to respect the rights of the country's white citizens. During with F. W. de Klerk's administration in 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from prison after 27 years and negotiations for ending apartheid gained more credibility. The Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) in 1991 led several breakout sessions on specific issues to be resolved to enable a transition to a freely democratic society. A popular white-only referendum on the holding of negotiations and implementation of reforms revealed widespread support for ending the impasse and resolving the country's apartheid issue, giving de Klerk the mandate he needed to continue working with Mandela. A second round of negotiations in 1992, CODESA II, collapsed. After a period of violence aimed at derailing negotiations and nearly setting off civil war, the negotiating parties ratified an interim constitution on November 18, 1993. The country emerged from apartheid in 1994 following extended negotiations between the country's president and Nelson Mandela, the long-imprisoned anti-apartheid figure. Mandela would become the country's first post-apartheid president and would sit in office until 1999.
Many of the transitional mechanisms for the country have been initiatives of the government, including the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and property redistribution projects. It has been suggested that givingpeople permission to form more independent institutions would better entrench the notion of democracy in South Africa. According to Michael Neocosmos, "such proposed institutions would have the function not only of developing a new popular democratic social contract, but also of ensuring that it is adhered to and developed over time." In his view, the facilitation of the transition by the government can be overbearing and undermine the development of a democratic cultural mindset.
Trying to facilitate the reconciliation of blacks and whites in South Africa, the government announced a land redistribution program that was meant to stay within the boundaries of a market-oriented approach rather than nationalization or land seizures. Criticism of the program by the year 2000 was intense, as very little land had been retaken and given to blacks. Additionally, perhaps with racist motivations, many whites argued the land was being mismanaged by its new owners. In light of this criticism, President Mbeki ordered a moratorium and review of the program. The Agriculture Ministry announced it would restart the program with a new goal of developing a black middle class instead of alleviating poverty, considered a more targeted and less abstract goal. Evaluations have been mixed; while some argue that there is too much market regulation, others say the market is too open to guarantee societal change. Simultaneously, there is the allegation of too much government involvement and at once not enough. Other developments include the creation of projects like Deep Democracy, which aims to protect and honor the opinion of the minority despite the rule of the majority. This idea probably came about in the attempt to satisfy white concerns about retribution or a complete loss of political influence following the liberation of the black population.
Some have alleged that the government's programs since 1994 have been racist in favor of blacks, exacerbating the rise in crime and economic problems for the country. As a result, a large number of whites, including Jews, have emigrated to Europe, Australia and Israel. This has undermined the idea that South African reconciliation has been successful, though some might argue that these developments were to be expected even without the rise in violence and crime, given the feeling among whites that they have become less privileged.