Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison before his release in February,1990. He became South Africa’s first black president in 1994, leading a multiracial democracy until 1999.
The abolition of apartheid remains Nelson Mandela’s greatest legacy, and under his leadership, South Africa emerged as a genuine democracy that saw many changes. Not all changes can be attributed to one man, but they were likely more rapid and profound.
Here are five ways South Africa changed after Mandela’s release.
1. South Africa’s economy
South Africa had spent many years in economic isolation by the time apartheid ended. Nelson Mandela had to find a way to manage the transition from apartheid without risking an economic collapse. His aspirations were to share the country’s natural resources, and to ensure work and education for all, and the five years Mandela led the country were characterized by strong growth.
Personal incomes increased as GDP per capita went from $5,760 in 1990 to $6,679 in 2000. Overall GDP fluctuated, but inflation, running at 14% before 1994, fell to 5% within the next decade.
By 2014, however, Nigeria surpassed South Africa as the continent’s largest economy.
The official unemployment rate in South Africa has been as high as 25% for many years, with youth unemployment even higher. Changes were slow even after apartheid ended, but the percentage of employed South African’s rose from 48.4% in 1990, to 52.2% in 2000.
3. Life expectancy
One of South Africa’s biggest problems is the number of HIV/AIDS patients. Estimates show one in seven citizens is infected with HIV – one of the highest rates in the world. This explains why the average South African’s life expectancy fell by ten years between 1992 and 2003.
Early on, Mandela expressed his concerns about the spread of AIDS, but didn’t focus on the issue during his presidency. He eventually became a very effective and dedicated campaigner, changing South Africa’s AIDS agenda by creating public awareness and advocating the use of condoms and treatment.
The lifting of sanctions meant a rapid increase in trade and one of the features of the period since has been a continued expansion of international trade.
In 1990, agriculture’s contribution to the South African economy starting dropping. The agricultural sector has grown by an average of around 10% a year since 1970 — significantly below total GDP growth of 13%. This has resulted in the drop of agriculture’s share of the GDP from 7,1% in 1970, to 2,6% in 2013.
Land redistribution remains a big issue, as most South African farmland is still white-owned despite government pledges to help increase black ownership.