There is a prevailing myth in South Africa today that the old National Party government did a pretty decent job of running the country. Sure there were apartheid but the politicians were honest, had good intentions and built up the country and it's infrastructure.
The origins of this myth is not hard to trace: it's exactly what the Nats were telling South Africa during the more 50-odd years they were in charge. What is more interesting is the side effects of it: The contrast with current government scandals – both corruption and service delivery related.
And tied into this – the core question we must answer: why does this myth persist to be able to create these contradictions ? We cannot only attribute this to effective National Party propaganda, the more right wingers will talk of how Bantu education budgets exceeded white education budgets (and ignore realities like how Bantu education systems were designed to suppress rather than uplift it's receivers – culminating in the June 1976 unrests) showing that the propaganda was believed – but the ANC is certainly no less busy spreading it's own propaganda and bragging about it's supposed achievements – so why the difference ?
Why do ANC propaganda have a limited impact, while National Party propaganda – unheard since the 1980's continue to be beleived ?
We hear about service delivery failures, protests around them and even many rightwingers feel a twinge of sympathy for the protesters (well sometimes) yet somehow they don't make the connection that exactly the same failure happened under the NATS at a much grander scale ? After all – the NATS simply did not try to deliver proper services to the bulk of the population.
Can it really be explained pure by the fact that those believing this were mostly from the section of the population that did receive services (and, on average, still receives far better) ?
I don't think so – that doesn't explain the over-all myth, though it certainly (and significantly) contributes to it's prevalence. It doesn't explain why there is a sincere belief that misguided as they were, NP politicians were honest, hardworking and well-meaning – while corruption is a cancer of the ANC only.
Especially since no historian actually agrees with that- in fact the NP's history of corruption was severe, excessive and certainly no less egregious than that of the ANC.
The real difference I believe is these few facts:
1) Until 1976 South Africa had no television service, and the only radio service was government run.
2) When a television service was introduced, this was also government run – no private vendors were allowed to broadcast television in South Africa until 1986 when M-Net got a license and they were prohibted from broadcasting news.
3) The largest newspaper group in the country (which controlled nearly 90% of all printed media) was, while not government owned extremely government aligned (in fact – it's long time chief Piet Steyn was chairman of the Afrikaner Broederbond).
4) What little private media existed, as well as international media companies, were tightly controlled by a web of censorship laws that made bad news and scandals essentially impossible to reveal.
Despite all this there was one, well-known corruption scandal in the NP years – the infogate scandal of the early 1980's – but it's the only one that came to light and many NP members of those days actually considered that one to be a fabricated scandal that was created to frame Connie Mulder in order to clear the way for P.W. Botha to become executive state president (a conspiracy theory lent some creedence by the fact that Mulder was found innocent during his later criminal trial – but had been kicked out of the running by then).
Only one corruption scandal in 50 years -and that one quite possibly never happened. It's simply not possible – it defies all experience of politics throughout human history. Sure you can get a good, honest leader now and then -but 5 decades full of government without a single bad apple ? Just not possible.
But when that government essentially controlled every piece of media in the country – it would be quite possible for a completely corrupt government to never, ever get caught. That is a lot more plausible. I posit that the Nats were as, if not more, corrupt a government than the ANC (and that there is no such thing as an un-corrupt government) – they just never let the public be allowed to find out about it.
There was a lack of scandal – not a lack of corruption. The product of censorship and media control – and exactly why these are such vile things.
The scandals in our country is a sign of hope -our politicians did not magically become more honest (and I don't think that will ever happen on this earth) – but they are finding it a lot harder to keep it secret or get away with it, and that is a good thing.
It is also why the continuing protests against the secrecy bill are so, so very important. Because the last thing we need – is to allow the ANC government to gain the power the Nats once had: the power to stop us from finding out when they are corrupt.