John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Remarks on Morning in South Africa

by John Campbell
Wild flowers bloom on Cape Town's Table Mountain heralding the coming southern hemisphere spring, August 19, 2015. (Reuters/Mike Hutchings) Wild flowers bloom on Cape Town's Table Mountain heralding the coming southern hemisphere spring, August 19, 2015. (Reuters/Mike Hutchings)

The following text is the entirety of John Campbell’s speech delivered as part of the Department of State’s Ralph J Bunche Library Series, on June 8, 2016. 

From a certain perspective, South Africa is a mess. Many South Africans are disappointed by the way the country has seemingly squandered its promise as the ‘Rainbow Nation.’ Under the Jacob Zuma presidential administration, the country is treading water with respect to poverty and addressing the lasting consequences of apartheid. Corruption is rife. You can read all about it in the Mail and Guardian or the Daily Maverick. Read more »

South Africa’s Land “Expropriation Bill”

by John Campbell
A Muslim man stands next to iftar (breaking fast) meal plates on the first day of Ramadan in India, at the Jama Masjid (Grand Mosque) in the old quarters of Delhi, India July 7, 2016. (Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko) A Muslim man stands next to iftar (breaking fast) meal plates on the first day of Ramadan in India, at the Jama Masjid (Grand Mosque) in the old quarters of Delhi, India July 7, 2016. (Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko)

There is less than meets the eye to the South African parliament’s passage at the end of May of a land reform bill, called the “Expropriation Bill.” Ostensibly, the new legislation has some similarity to law of eminent domain in the United States. The new legislation would permit the government to take land for a “public purpose,” but (as in the United States) South African landowners would be compensated with an amount determined by a new ‘valuer general.’ The new legislation replaces the “willing buyer, willing seller” principle of land reform. Read more »

Black and White Income Inequality in South Africa and the United States

by John Campbell
A fruit vendor waits for customers at an informal settlement in Thokoza, south of Johannesburg, July 18, 2014. (Siphiwe Sibeko/Courtesy Reuters) A fruit vendor waits for customers at an informal settlement in Thokoza, south of Johannesburg, July 18, 2014. (Siphiwe Sibeko/Courtesy Reuters)

South Africa is notorious for having gross income inequality. Its GINI coefficient–a standard for measuring income inequality–is one of the highest in the world. The World Bank computed it at 63.1 in 2009, with zero being absolute equality and one hundred absolute inequality. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the GINI coefficient for the United States in 2012 was 47.7. When analyzing these two GINI coefficients, there is a danger of comparing apples with oranges. The GINI coefficients here cited were developed by two different institutions, no doubt with different methodologies. What GINI coefficients actually show is also a matter of debate. Still, they indicate income inequality was greater in South Africa than in the U.S. in recent years. Read more »

South Africa’s Mamphela Ramphele Leaves Politics

by John Campbell
Anti-apartheid activist Mamphela Ramphele launches her new political party "Agang" to challenge South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) in Pretoria, June 22, 2013. (Mike Hutchings/Courtesy Reuters) Anti-apartheid activist Mamphela Ramphele launches her new political party "Agang" to challenge South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) in Pretoria, June 22, 2013. (Mike Hutchings/Courtesy Reuters)

Mamphela Ramphele, the founder of the political party AgangSA (Agang is the northern Sotho word for ‘build’) in 2013, announced on July 8 that she is leaving politics. Read more »

The 2014 South African Election: Another ANC Landslide

by Guest Blogger for John Campbell
President Jacob Zuma dances at a victory rally of his ruling African National Congress (ANC) in Johannesburg May 10, 2014. (Mike Hutchings/Courtesy Reuters) President Jacob Zuma dances at a victory rally of his ruling African National Congress (ANC) in Johannesburg May 10, 2014. (Mike Hutchings/Courtesy Reuters)

This is a guest post by Derek Charles Catsam, associate professor of History and the Kathlyn Cosper Dunagan fellow in the Humanities at the University of Texas of the Perman Basin. Derek was senior editor for the Foreign Policy Association’s Africa blog from 2007 to 2014. Read more »

South Africa Moving Away From A One-Party State

by John Campbell
Voters mark their ballots in Johannesburg's Alexandra township, May 7, 2014. (Mike Hutchings/Courtesy Reuters) Voters mark their ballots in Johannesburg's Alexandra township, May 7, 2014. (Mike Hutchings/Courtesy Reuters)

While much international attention has been focused on the Boko Haram kidnapping of up to three hundred schoolgirls in northern Nigeria, an episode that re-enforces an Africa negative narrative, South Africa has, yet again, conducted free, fair, and credible national elections. With 99 percent of the votes counted as I write, the governing African National Congress (ANC) has won 62 percent of the vote, the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA) has won 22 percent, while a new, left-wing party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) won 6 percent. The rest of the votes were shared by numerous small parties. Turnout was a healthy 73 percent. The ANC electoral victory guarantees that President Jacob Zuma will remain in office. Read more »

Eyewitness to Democracy: South Africa

by Guest Blogger for John Campbell
Winnie Madikizela Mandela casts her ballot in Johannesburg's Soweto township, May 7, 2014. (Mike Hutchings/Courtesy Reuters) Winnie Madikizela Mandela casts her ballot in Johannesburg's Soweto township, May 7, 2014. (Mike Hutchings/Courtesy Reuters)

This is a guest post by Le Chen, Janice Dean, Jesper Frant, and Rachana Kumar. They are Master of Public Administration students at Columbia University’s School of International Public Affairs. They are working with Ambassador John Campbell on a graduate practicum project, which was made possible by faculty adviser Professor Anne Nelson. A version of this post appeared on the World Policy Blog. Read more »

Times Are A ‘Changin’ in South Africa, But Perhaps Not Yet

by John Campbell
Supporters of Julius Malema's Economic Freedom Party (EFF) cheer during their party's final election rally in Pretoria, May 4, 2014. (Skyler Reid/Courtesy Reuters) Supporters of Julius Malema's Economic Freedom Party (EFF) cheer during their party's final election rally in Pretoria, May 4, 2014. (Skyler Reid/Courtesy Reuters)

South Africa goes to the polls on May 7. The South African media has been describing the elections as likely to be “the closest since the coming of democracy in 1994.” Liberation icon Nelson Mandela is dead; the ruling African National congress (ANC) is associated with corruption, poor service delivery in the townships, and a cozy relationship between its leaders and big business. President Jacob Zuma is dogged with scandal. Liberation icons such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former ANC minister Ronnie Kasrils have abandoned the party. These are also the first national elections in which the “Born Frees”–those born after 1994–can vote. The official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA) is energized, and for the first time there is left-wing alternative, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). All this makes for a crowded playing field. Read more »

South Africa’s May 7 Elections and What I Will Be Watching

by John Campbell
Youth worker Nathaniel Groep, nineteen, stands in front of flats outside his home in Mannenberg, a gang-ravaged township, in Cape Town. Nathaniel said, "Every vote counts, particularly for young people. For our generation there are new possibilities and maybe we can build a brighter future. The issues I would like to see addressed are gangsterism, peer pressure and the lack of work opportunities." April 18, 2014. (Mike Hutchings/Courtesy Reuters) Youth worker Nathaniel Groep, nineteen, stands in front of flats outside his home in Mannenberg, a gang-ravaged township, in Cape Town. Nathaniel said, "Every vote counts, particularly for young people. For our generation there are new possibilities and maybe we can build a brighter future. The issues I would like to see addressed are gangsterism, peer pressure and the lack of work opportunities." April 18, 2014. (Mike Hutchings/Courtesy Reuters)

There seems to be a good deal of genuinely democratic ferment in South Africa, and the post-apartheid political mold may be breaking apart. South Africa’s new political directions may be clearer by the next election cycle, that of 2019. Nevertheless, in this cycle, with election day on May 7, voting trends may indicate the direction that politics will be moving over the next five years. Read more »

South Africa’s May National Elections a Watershed? Not Yet

by John Campbell
Supporters of Julius Malema's Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party cheer at the launch of the EFF's election manifesto in Tembisa township, east of Johannesburg, February 22, 2014. (Mike Hutchings/Courtesy Reuters) Supporters of Julius Malema's Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party cheer at the launch of the EFF's election manifesto in Tembisa township, east of Johannesburg, February 22, 2014. (Mike Hutchings/Courtesy Reuters)

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) is in decline, but it will most likely win the upcoming elections on May 7. Many voters are angry over its corruption, symbolized by public money spent on President Jacob Zuma’s private, African-styled Versailles named Nkandla, and last year’s unresolved police brutality, labor disputes, and other issues at the Marikana platinum mine. Read more »