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Mandela's economic legacy for South Africa

ANC supporters show their respect for Nelson Mandela outside of his one-time house in Vilakazi Street December 6, 2013 in Soweto, South Africa. Mandela, also known as Tata Madiba, passed away on the evening of December 5th at his home in Houghton at the age of 95. Mandela became South Africa's first black president after being jailed for decades for his activism against apartheid in a racially-divided South Africa. 

As President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela faced an uphill battle to rebuild the country’s economy after economic sanctions were imposed by other countries protesting the apartheid government. His success varied.

“He began a process that saw South Africa achieve the longest period of its economic growth – for 15 years” says Buntu Williams, a BBC business reporter based in Johannesburg.

The only slowed in 2008 when the financial crisis hit. And even now in South Africa, Mandela remains a prominent figure when it comes to the economy because “most of the policies that would follow were really developed in the time that he was president.”

But inequality is still a problem in South Africa.

When Mandela came to power, the average white household earned nine times what the average black household earned. Today, the average white household earns six times more than a black one.

Mandela’s policies were often hindered by South Africa’s weak economy and lack of funds says Williams. But Mandela never attempted to nationalize private businesses as other left-leaning leaders have done.

“At the center of it all was to ensure white South Africans in particular and also to ensure black that South Africa’s problems were going to be negotiated. That there was going to be peace, that the country wouldn’t fall into chaos.”

Williams says South African markets haven’t moved much since news of Mandela's death. He attributes it to the respect South Africans feel towards Mandela.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.
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