South Africa: Special report

Just 16 years ago, South Africa was a country going backwards. Apartheid had made it a pariah of the world. Foreign investors were under pressure to pull out, sanctions were hurting its economy and its sports teams were excluded from international competition.

A generation later, the republic is coming to terms with its painful rebirth as a multi-racial democracy. A quarter are unemployed and half live below the poverty line. Uneven distribution of wealth and healthcare hasn't eased the burden of an HIV epidemic that affects 20 per cent of adults. South Africa also has the world's highest murder rate.

And yet its future is bright. It has abundant natural resources and well-developed financial, legal, energy and transport sectors. Its economy grew by 4 per cent in the last quarter of this year and a black middle class is finding its feet (this page). Its hosting of the 2010 Fifa World Cup is another sign of the emergence of a modern South Africa.

This optimism hasn't been lost on the country's ad industry. Its agencies continue to punch above their weight at international awards shows (page 27) and enjoy a double-digit growth market.

The media industry, meanwhile, continues to fight for its freedom. While Josh Dovey, the boss of the country's largest media buyer, argues that South Africa's press is "absolutely free" and its government is "one of the most legitimate in the world" (page 28), not everyone agrees. Media groups are contesting proposed laws they say would give the state the right to censor some newspapers and TV programmes. The move follows controversy at the state broadcaster, SABC, which has been accused of pandering to the whims of the government.

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