The SDC has been present in South Africa since the end of apartheid and the first democratic elections in 1994. Today the SDC's main activities revolve around its regional programme for southern Africa, focusing on the three key themes of good governance, the fight against HIV/AIDS, and food security. But the SDC has also maintained some projects specifically focused on South Africa, which is a strategic partner for the entire region.
Nomfundo Mbuli, what is life like now for South Africans, twenty years after the end of apartheid?
Pretty good. A lot of progress has been made. Successive governments have worked hard to reduce inequality in education and access to health care. In the area of health, over the past three years our country has become a leader in terms of triple therapy offered to people living with HIV. Some 98% of South African children receive a primary education and have access to school meals. Of course it's not all perfect. The quality of education provided is still a problem, as is unemployment, which affects a large part of the population.
How is the reconciliation process progressing?
If you're talking about true social cohesion, I really can't say we're there yet. But yes, we have become reunited as a country. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a good thing. The charisma of Nelson Mandela and the 2010 World Cup, among other things, have brought us all closer together as a nation. Democratic institutions now exist that guarantee the rights of every individual. That too has reinforced our unity.
What has the SDC been doing since 1994?
Switzerland helped our country to rebuild and develop, in line with the priorities set by the new government. As time progressed, the SDC turned to consolidating democratic institutions, supporting decentralisation and agricultural reforms, and fighting violence against women. From 2004 it became more involved at the regional level, covering all of southern Africa. The SDC's regional activities are in direct response to the desire expressed by the countries of southern Africa to develop as a region, in the face of global challenges.
If you were to name two SDC's success stories in South Africa…
That's a hard one: there are so many to choose from! Let me then mention the ground-breaking work achieved through a local justice project: "Small Claims Courts". The idea behind it was to give the poorest in society access to justice, even in the far-flung corners of the country. The SDC worked very closely on this with the government. The project will come to an end this year, by which time it will have enabled 293 local courts to see the light of day, which together will have handled over 100,000 cases. The courts are now an integral part of the state judicial system. Another major success story is our work to fight the scourge of HIV. A project to raise awareness among school pupils, teachers and local communities worked so well that it was adopted and taught systematically throughout two provinces, reaching a total of nearly 12,000 schools! And it doesn't stop there: a number of ministers for education in the region subsequently decided to take up the project which was initially funded by the SDC.
Back to oncoming issues: are you serene about the upcoming elections?
Yes. We have every good reason to have hope, because we have institutions that are worthy of our trust. We are in the fortunate position of being able to hold democratic elections every five years. This year the "born frees", as we call them, will vote for the very first time. We are well aware of what still needs to change and we don't hesitate to let our authorities know. This grants us the capacity to move forward.