February 23, 2009
Poverty preserves racial lines in post-apartheid South Africa
South Africa is a complex and changing country that is still dealing with a legacy of racial division. It was only 15 years ago that the system of apartheid ended, and since then many of the racial barriers have been broken down, if not forgotten.
But a gap still exists today between have and have-nots, and many of the poor are black. They may be equal on paper, but because of impoverished conditions, many still feel unequal.
Worldfocus special correspondent Martin Seemungal takes look at the “new” South Africa, beginning in Soweto, a former black township in Johannesburg that came to symbolize the repressive “old” days.
Below, bloggers in South Africa and elsewhere discuss the state of race relations in the country. Also watch an extended interview: Class divisions widen in racially free South Africa.
Blogger “Ellie” at “PostBourgie” writes about what Barack Obama’s election meant to black South Africans:
Being abroad for Obama’s election was bittersweet. [...] True, the country has only been free from apartheid for 15 years, but the level of physical segregation and economic disparity are shocking by any standard. Life in the townships, where most Blacks and Coloureds are relegated, is a life of poverty and little opportunity, especially with regard to education.It’s often hard to see change coming; in one city, I saw a segregated toilet facility at a gas station. At least 20 women were in line waiting for the one toilet for Blacks, yet the Whites Only toilet remained locked and unoccupied, guarded by a Black employee. When I asked her how this could possibly exist, she told me that Blacks deserve this treatment because “we’re dirty and we don’t know how to flush.”
I wanted to tell her that she was beautiful, and just as good as anybody else, but all I could do was walk away in shock. Black South Africans may be in charge of the government, but White South Africans control the two most important things: the money, and the minds of a people who have been taught to think of themselves as an inferior race.
Still, South Africans have an incredible sense of optimism and hope. This became especially clear to me after Obama was elected. [...] Why are South Africans so excited about Obama? Because, deep in their hearts, they are yearning for their own campaign of change, unity, and hope. Black presidents in South Africa have brought an end to legal racial segregation, but have failed to lift the overwhelming majority of South Africans out of dire poverty. What many South Africans are looking for is a candidate who won’t win the Black vote because he’s Black, or the White vote because he’s White, but a candidate whose vision of a better country inspires everyday citizens across color lines. That’s what Obama has done, and that’s what South Africa desperately needs to begin to heal the racial wounds of the past.
A blogger at “SA Expats” writes about why s/he moved away from the country, as one of many white South Africans who have left:
Granted, there are scores of white South Africans that left purely on racial grounds. Good riddance for SA, bad for the places they are staying know. However if you are still under perception it is only white people leaving SA, you’ll be sadly surprised.
The fact is more and more educated South Africans of all races find it hard to make ends meet in SA. When more than a third of your work forcé are unemployed, they need to do something…
I purely left because of a better work opportunity. I was reaching a stage in my professional career where affirmative action was stopping me from progressing. Although I understand the economic need for affirmative action and redistribution of income, I need to feed myself and my family and wasn’t going to “take one for the team.” Why should I, whom had no say in the previous apartheid regime, suffer for the sins of my forefathers? I wasn’t ready to live a life of poverty and constant struggling for the “greater good.”
I was also constantly concerned about safety in SA. You all know how it is. Yes, people say, “we should work together to make the country a better place.” I agree, we should, but it doesn’t seem the criminals care to much about that sentiment.
In her recent introductory post, South African blogger “MizzLee” paints a glowing image of progress since apartheid:
I’m a South African and as a South African I face many little “landmines” everyday. . . .Taxi’s, The Ekhuruleni Town Council, Potholes and power failures. As a way to passively get rid of all my frustration and perhaps get some insight I have decided to start blogging. Not only for my own sanity, but also to show the world how truly wonderful South Africa is, how far we’ve come since apartheid, how rich we are with culture and diversity and last but not least how South Africa truly is the best place on earth
However, in a later post, the same blogger deplores rampant crime and ineffective police:
My family and I have been living in the same house for just over 4 years now. The area is good and crime is relatively low in comparison to our neighbouring suburbs, but all that changed last week when the family 2 houses from me found themselves tied up and all their possessionswhere being loaded up into their own car by the thieves. [...]But as we all know South Africa is the land of crime with out punishment.
A map at United For Africa invites South Africans to document continuing xenophobic attacks in their country.