The history of modern South Africa has been shaped by one singular factor, the legacy of Apartheid, which for over 40 years consigned most of the country’s population to second class-citizenship, entrenched economic inequalities and isolated the country from much of the African continent and international community. The modern republic of South Africa is an amalgamation of various territories, which in the 19th Century came under the control of the British Empire following fierce resistance from equally expanding states, including the Zulu Empire and republics established by the white Dutch settlers; increasing autonomy for what was known as the dominion of South Africa, was coupled with the gradual disenfranchisement of the black population, notably with the 1913 land act. In 1948, the de facto inequality in the country was made de jure; the African National Congress, formed in 1912, increasingly became the voice of black resistance to apartheid, along with trade unions and the communist party.
From the 1960s, the ANC pursued a policy of armed resistance, countered brutally domestically and in the frontline African states by the Apartheid state. The collapse of the soviet bloc, and increasing international opposition in the 1980s, coupled with a revived national resistance to make South Africa ‘ungovernable’ led to talks and the eventual demise of the ‘whites-only’ rule. The first popular democratic election in 1994 saw the ANC win the vote with Nelson Mandela as president. South Africa became the rainbow nation feted internationally for dismantiling apartheid peacefully; yet despite great strides in establishing the country as a modern African state, the failure to deliver fully on the expectations of post-apartheid South Africa is what now defines South African politics and society.
The ruling African National Congress, having won the peace and established multi-party democracy, has dominated the political landscape since the end of Apartheid; successive ANC governments have largely maintained stable economic growth and political stability. The country’s international standing remains high, further burnished by a successful hosting of the FIFA World Cup in 2012. Nevertheless, race relations remain one of the central and most divisive issues in South Africa – inequality still mirrors the apartheid-era division between Blacks and Whites, though a burgeoning middle-class is beginning to alter the political and economic landscape of the country. However sharp imbalances in the distribution of wealth and the benefits of the ANC's black economic empowerment policy has led to deep resentment and frequent protests and clashes between the state, individuals and civil society groups; these battles seemed to have come to ahead following the killing of 34 miners during a protracted and frequently violent strike action at the Lonmin-owned, Marikana’ mines in August 2012. The political fallout from the death of the miners, killed by police officers, in what many say as reminiscent of the apartheid-era Sharpeville massacre, is expected to significantly recalibrate ANC politics, if not that of South Africa itself.
The African National Congress in a tripartite alliance with the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) has dominated politics in the country since the end of apartheid, winning over 50% the vote in the last election. The current president, Jacob Zuma came into office under a cloud of controversy, dogged by accusations and subsequent charges of rape and corruption in 2005. The circumstances of Zuma’s rise to the presidency including the forced exit of his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, exposed deep rifts within the ANC which have continued to grow. A once vocal supporter Julius Malema, former president of the ANC Youth League, is now a fierce critic of Zuma and his government, who gained popular support by criticising Zuma’s government and handling of the Marikana crisis. In (2008), a faction of the party broke away to form the Congress of the People (COPE) party which in the 2009 elections secured 8% of the vote. In 2009, the Democratic Alliance, a party composed of old elements of the apartheid-era National Party, the Liberal Party and the other smaller progressive parties won control of the Western Cape, in the first blow to the ANC’s national dominance. Nevertheless, it’s likely that the ANC will continue to be the dominant party in South African politics for the foreseeable future.