Perspectives on SA's apartheid.

Jan 19th, 2006, 12:44 PM
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Perspectives on SA's apartheid.

After reading comment on an earlier forum I felt somewhat disappointed by the comments that were made. Perhaps because I am so proudly South African and truly amazed at the maturity of my countries people in dealing with the racial issues that haunted that country for so many years, or perhaps because I have my head deeply in the sand and am not seeing the truth that exists in the country. so I'd like to initiate a discussion on this topic in an attempt to understand that which i am clearly ignorant of: So first my opinion, indulge me.

I was raised in South Africa, haven't a clue where I might finally grow up, but the world is large and no one place holds me for too long, I drink destinations until the jar is dry and then move returning to savour the flavour at another time.

I lived through the apartheid regime, fought in the war to protect the status quo of the land and then saw life as it was and became involved in bridging the gap between black and white (no offence intended by using these terms) During this time I came to understand the major barrier to unifying SA's diverse society were born out of ignorance, which itself has it's roots in language barriers and forced segregation. I speak fluent Xhosa and was able to appreciate at least one of the nguni tribes beliefs, traditions and lifestyles. Being a whitey attending a privdged school I have ben able to understand the Afrikaner and settler mentalities too.

So when I head back to my motherland I am always overwhelmed at how well the various sectors of SA's societies have melded into one. The rotten past is not forgotten, and cultures do tend to keep to themselves, however that I see throughout the world, the list is long. In South Africa's case, the most glaring progression is obviously the abolishment of legal racial prejudice. Then the next is the tolerance of the people themselves, evidenced across the commercial sectors, within social areas and in public. I do not encounter racial tension what-so-ever. Quite honestly, living hear in the USA there is way more racial tension than back in my homeland, here it is expressed in whispers, practised in public. Listen to the radio, you'll hear refernce to the Spanish immigrants, you'll hear reference to "african-american" productivity issues and slander for a segment of the population that does not live up to caucasion expectations when their work ethic is judged. My post is not to make comparisons, but to examine my perspective of So AFRICA.

So getting back to it: I acknowledge that in the commercial sectors that people of colour are not leading the markets: Folks for now I do not think that this is wrong. Nelson Mandela waved his magic wand and saved the country from bloodshed, his magic wand was unable to fix all the evils of the past and educate generations of illiterate. The empowerment process seems to be well under way, perhaps breeding new prejudices as the fat cats such as Ramaphosa, Sexwale and co profit from the indifferences. They are worth mega bucks and I don't see much of their efforts philanthropically making their way back into impoverished communities, do you? I see a large sector of the population still unskilled and poor. That I understand to be a natural course of events as the Zimbabweans, Zambians, Mozambiqueans and a variety of others pour into the country for work. I see a sad legacy from the aprtheid past that defined financial class by colour and that is not a reflection on SA's current disposition, it is a reflection of the past.

Am I wrong? Is the undercurrent still so venomous? Do blacks despise the whites? Do the whites still hate the blacks? If they do, I am sorry I don't see it. Take my glasses off and give me your perspective.
mkhonzo is offline  
Jan 19th, 2006, 01:38 PM
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An interesting post...

Please note that my opinion should not taken too seriously as it is based on only 5 weeks in the country in 2004 and that time was on holiday - one does not really see all the reality of a country on such a trip.

First of all I found the change that had already happened in South Africa in the 10 years since the end of apartheid very heartening. It was clear to me that a sizeable proportion of the population were truly looking forward rather than back and I found that very inspiring.

That said I definitely found some throwbacks to the apartheid years hard to reconcile - driving through the incredible wine lands and knowing that all these beautiful estates were owned by the descendants of white colonialists... and had become the success that they were on the backs of an enslaved workforce. I do appreciate that there is no longer any colour bar to purchasing land but, now that this land is so valuable, it will be unlikely indeed that much of it will change hands across the colour bar. Then again, I know that this viewpoint is highly hypocritical of me when my own country, England, is much the same - vast country estates are owned by the descendants of those granted them in times very long ago.

I guess it was hard to accept, even though I could understand the reasons, that economic change will come very slowly indeed and it really will be a very long time indeed before "blacks, whites and coloureds" (to use the apartheid terms) are truly equal. I don't have any bright ideas on how this might be achieved more quickly and I absolutely don't support Mugabe-style forced repatriation so... what to do?

A positive for me was that any (very slight) worries I had before the trip about what kind of reception my husband and I would receive as a mixed-race couple were completely unfounded. Whilst mixed-race relationships aren't yet as common in SA as they are in London, we felt completely comfortable in this respect at all times.

I also harbour some views that will no doubt be shouted down as racist or inflammatory but they are simply my views and that is that. I found a marked difference in the attitudes held by members of the different black tribal groups we encountered. With some groups, it seemed every member we met displayed an extremely positive outlook to the new South Africa, they harboured no ill-will towards their erstwhile oppressors, they appreciated that change would take time and got on with their lives. With other groups, it seemed so very many of the members we met displayed a lot of aggression towards their fellow South Africans, made often-absurd claims of racism against white colleagues, those colleagues to be beaten and hounded by their brethren without any effort to establish the truth or lack of it within the situation, and seemed generally to want a free ride now the apartheid regime is over. I found it harder to warm to these individuals, as you can imagine.

I also found it bizaare that every white South Africa with whom I interacted in any detail seemed to present themselves as having always been supportive of the end of apartheid and yet this didn't really make sense given that history has recorded that the majority of the white population were supportive or at the very least accepting of the status quo. Perhaps it's a facet of the tourism industry - maybe only those of a certain mindset go into it - but I can't imagine so. We had a long discussion over breakfast at one guesthouse with a young white South Africa couple of our age decrying the changes in South Africa because there was now far too much competition for the best jobs and they hadn't been able to simply walk into one as their parents had done... they were emigrating to the UK later that year...

Overall my experiences were hugely positive and I appreciated being able to interact with so many individuals.

I totally appreciate that my opinions may be unfair as I do know that one cannot really hope to truly understand a complex situation in such a short period of time.
Kavey is offline  
Jan 19th, 2006, 01:43 PM
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mkhonzo: I think you have initiated a great topic for discussion. The very fact that you have written so much and so eloquently about your feelings means that this issue is very close to your heart.

Perhaps you are lucky in that you went to a priviledged school. I didn't. I went to a government other words all the teacher's salaries were paid by the government. I had a teacher (and this is in the eighties) who told our class that he believed that the army should go into the townships and shoot all the blacks and that this would solve all South Africa's problems. This is what a teacher told me as a young child.

Something else that happened on a daily basis at school: When an adult came into the room we were all supposed to stand up. But when a black adult came into the room (usually one of the cleaning staff) we didn't have to stand. I found all this mind boggling as a child.

As a white South African I am angry that I never had the opportunity to meet people of different colours or religions until I was well into my twenties. And even then I felt socially inept, unable to hold a conversation, afraid of saying the wrong thing, acutely uncomfortable.

Interestingly the first kind of friend I ever made who was black was someone I worked with. She had the same job as me and yet she lived in a township in a shack. She chose to stay there where she grew up because it gave her much more expendable income...her rent there was extremely low. The downside was having a very long trip by taxi to work and a dangerous walk back to her shack late at night. I've lost touch with her. I think she's finished her degree now and is a social worker.

I think the key point about my first black friend is that I never visited her home. I have subsequently turned down invitations by other colleagues to go to a shebeen in Gugulethu or 'Gugs'. And there's no other way to say it: I am afraid of the crime in those areas. I would not encourage tourists to go to those areas. Perhaps on an organized 'township' tour things are very different. But for me to drive there by myself at night...i just can't do it.

One more point: a year ago I was unemployed and applied for a job as a housekeeper/maid. I have experience with this kind of work in the UK. I was told that I could never get such a job because I am white. I was told that no white person would want to hire me because it would make them uncomfortable to have a white person cleaning up after them. As an adult I find this mind boggling!

leanapayne is offline  
Jan 19th, 2006, 01:44 PM
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Hi mkhonzo, Interesting to hear your experiences and views on south africa.
I agree that most conflicts occur because of ignorance and mis-understandings. Understanding and tolerance of other people's culture and belief's is a key to bridging gaps between diverse cultures
sonali74 is offline  
Jan 19th, 2006, 03:05 PM
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Our exposure to SA has been even less than Kavey's, so it's really arrogant to opine on such a big issue. Which of course is a green light…

Ever heard the story about Swedish traffic? One Sunday in the early 1960s, after several years of preparation, Sweden switched sides. Traffic that had moved on the left side of the road (British Commonwealth/Japanese style) moved over, at the stroke of (?) noon (?) to the right. The next morning's papers announced how wonderful and easy and trouble-free the switch had been.

Time passed, around a month or so. Then the accident rate and injury rate and insurance rates… ka-boom. The novelty of the new order had passed, people relaxed, and old habits and behaviors kicked in.

So the question for South Africa is, do you still look right when you step into the road?

Having lived through and been a part of US freedom movements in the 60s, what struck us (my wife largely shares these views) was the sense of SA being a big iceberg. Titanic iceberg. So much visible above the waterline, so much more concealed beneath. We saw and heard way more positive than negative - so much so that it seemed too good to be true. And I wonder if it is. A majority of the whites we spoke to - and it was by far the majority with whom we interacted, despite a Township tour and some good one-on-ones with black folk - seemed indeed to manifest the "it wasn't me" demeanor that one heard in the US from white elites in the South in the 1970s or 80s. Segregation? Who, me?

Which is NOT to say that they were lying or modifying the truth. One can not know, and really it's not important to know, what they're mumbling under their breath or what they're thinking while they speak. In a pluralistic and open society it's what we DO rather than what we THINK, that matters.

It's taken the US and Britain a century and a half to shrug off the legal institutions of bigotry, and there are thousands, millions maybe, of people in those countries who still use N-words and W-words and all that. But the societies have continued to grow and evolve and diversify and provide better lives to the next generation than the ones before had. With hope and patience and truth and reconciliation and did I mention patience, South Africa will do the same. Sooner, because they have to.

But they will have to keep their hands on the wheel and pay attention to the other cars.
Gardyloo is online now  
Jan 20th, 2006, 04:02 AM
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Mkhonzo, I really support what you said and congratulations on a very well written and clear picture of current S.A.
Zenz is offline  
Jan 20th, 2006, 07:51 AM
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I enjoy hearing your thoughts and opinions, clearly my head is not too deep in the sand.

I think of my homeland often, I still have friends and family there and am often exposed to their thoughts & concerns. For us "whities" who lived through the apartheid era there is still a degree of regret (I generalise based on my feelings and those mirrored by my closest friends) that we were unable to facilitate change earlier, regret that we were embroiled in a system that we took for granted for so long and regret that we missed out on so much by being unable to interact with the vast majority of the countrys people.

That said I do honsetly feel that the tide has turned and the openess that prevails in my homeland is quite genuine. Yes the opportunities that prevailed at the time have left a legacy of white ownership and economic dominance, however I see that changing. But like I said the fat cat leadership which has now changed colour appears in the main less phiilanthropic than it's predecessors. I see many licking their lips and savouring the gravy from the train at the expense of the needy. In this respect I am ashamed as I would have hoped that these leaders would be the first to initiate an equitable dispersement of the riches: Bottom line is that greed has no charity and that if you want to get ahead, then the onus and responsibility is born by the individual. The climate is ripe and the individuals in SA regardless of colour, history and or creed now have the opportunity to make a go of it themselves and only themselves.

In this respect I do see some negatives, the legislated employment equity prejudices those who come from a priveledged back ground, it encourages shareholding in companies and corportaions regardless of skills and competancies and is based more so on skin tone: This is sad as it appears that the efforts of ggovt to reverse the wrongs of the past is leading to a disparity and breeding a comfort zone that does not necessarily encourage excellence. Perhaps an opportunity lost and perhaps apartheid in reverse?

But on the whole I don't see that ice berg, I see rather a swiftly flowing river of racial diversity and cultural acceptability that continues to develope in South African society making it arguably Africa's greatest success story. I land of hope where dreams can be realised by all.

Again your comments are great and I appreciate reading them.
mkhonzo is offline  
Jan 20th, 2006, 08:37 AM
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Mkhonzo, I think you're right on. I've been visiting South Africa over the course of the last 25 years, beginning during the apartheid times, and through all the changes to the present.

In my talks with South Africans, (not just people I've met as a tourist, but people I've worked with in the universities, and in corporations and in state-owned companies) I've found real changes in the views of the races toward each other. The deep desire for a positive future is far more prevalent than any wish to turn back, as far as I can see.

The fact that so many businesses are investing time and money to stay in the country, to train black employees, and so forth -- that shows how deep the commitment is to avoid a future like Zimbabwe's.

A sort of tangent here -- I wonder how many nations could undergo the sort of microscopic analysis that the world has subjected South Africa to over the last decades, and come out looking good.
Celia is offline  
Jan 20th, 2006, 10:12 AM
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Definitely a land of hope and much about to to justify the title Rainbow Nation. It's not fair or realistic to expect change overnight and 10 years, in the grand scheme of things, is really just a moment in time...

And I agree with Celia that few nations can claim to have completely clean slates - even though inequality may have been legally overcome far before it was in SA that doesn't mean it's been completely eradicated socially and economically.

Kavey is offline  
Jan 20th, 2006, 11:47 AM
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This is certainly an interesting topic. Like some others I have too little experience to go deep here but in my short time in the country I have noticed a few things.

First, it is impressive how far things have come in such a short time. That has to be considered an incredible success.

My worry is I have seen a resentment, which is to be expected, over the disparity of the wealth. It is just such a difficult issue and there is no way to ever fix that part of the equation completely. I believe the key has to be to create opportunity so there can be some balancing out in the future. To this point I was surprised when my tour guide was telling me that despite a booming economy that public school is not available without direct cost. Something I definitely take for granted in the U.S. that all have the opportunity to attend school -- not that they are all equal unfortunately. Again, I do not know much about this in reality but to me educational opportunity that helps even everyones preparation is the key to providing opportunity to all who are willing to work hard. I think it would be a huge mistake to let the Zimbabwe redistribution methods ever occur but I do think that taxing the wealth enough to provide educational opportunities to all is critical to ever move beyond the wealth class separation which will continue to closely follow the lines of race until more of the poor are educated.

Bigotry will always exist within some individuals in all countries as long as ignorance and fear of the unknown are human qualities. The key is governments have to overcome this human shortcoming by assuring protection and opportunity for all citizens. It seems that S.A. has joined in this stance.
PredatorBiologist is offline  
Jan 21st, 2006, 12:31 AM
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Regarding mkhonzo original post as Gert said: "The lady doth protest too much, methinks."

Since this thread seems to be in response to the thread about Cape Town recommendations, I find little connection in your post to what was being discussed in that thread. You talk a lot about hating, racial tensions, the US, and about your personal experiences, but none of that was being discussed in the Cape Town thread. What was discussed is that there is a huge disparity between the economic levels of blacks and whites in South Africa. This causes some areas to be virtually all white and some to be all black. If the couple that started the CT thread expected to find in CT the same level of integration found in the USA, they will be in for a shock. You ascribe this to "I see a large sector of the population still unskilled and poor. That I understand to be a natural course of events as the Zimbabweans, Zambians, Mozambiqueans and a variety of others pour into the country for work." This statement is exactly the kind of head in the sand attitude I see among South Africans I know. To say that the poor blacks in South Africa are really all foreigners iscompletely wrong and insulting to the over 20 million black South Africans living in poverty.

I do agree with one thing you said:

"I have my head deeply in the sand and am not seeing the truth that exists in the country. so I'd like to initiate a discussion on this topic in an attempt to understand that which i am clearly ignorant of"

I hope the couple that started the CT thread read this, as your post will give them a clear picture of what to expect from some white South Africans.
tuckeg is offline  
Jan 21st, 2006, 03:49 AM
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Thanks for your post Tuckeg: I initiated the discussion for education, personally and for otherson this board. I gave my perspective, however enticing people to respond with theirs. I never asked to be critisised for my opinion, rather to be shown the light that others see.

Your post appears quite bitter, is that because I don't understand my country, or because I have my head in tha sand and have asked for opinions? Or is it simply because you too are as confused as I and ashamed of your heritage? Other than that I see no reason for your hostility.
mkhonzo is offline  
Jan 21st, 2006, 06:52 AM
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South Africans are a bit self obsessed. I think it comes from decades of being ignored by the world and suddenly embraced as a success story. A lot of us are justifiably proud. But I do have to say that the slogan 'Proudly South African'started to irritate me after the first million times I heard it. Get over it!

The biggest mistake that many tourists might make is to see South Africa in terms of black and white. Try to get hold of a copy of 'A History of South Africa'by Leonard Thompson (Yale University Press) before your trip for a better understanding of all the different cultural groups...if you are interested in this kind of thing.

Remember that the whole apartheid thing is milked as effectively as the safari concept in making money out of tourists...a lot of it is hyped and packaged to appeal to foreign tastes.
leanapayne is offline  
Jan 21st, 2006, 09:52 PM
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You see race hatred in a thread where it is not discussed and you see bitterness in a post where none exists. The only question is "Does economic apartheid exist in South Africa?" I say yes, you seem to be saying no, although it is pretty hard to tell exactly what you are saying. Stick to the issue instead of discussions about what languages you speak, all the "I am clearly ignorant" nonsense and your attempts at amateur psychoanalysis.

I leave it to anyone who travels in South Africa to decide for themselves by observing the society. I will repeat what I said to the couple in the CT lodgings thread, in many restaurants, stores, and public areas, you may be the only black there. This is very different from what they will be use to in the USA. Take for example Table Mountain versus the Grand Canyon. At Table Mountain, in a country where the majority of population is black, we saw one black couple out of 500-1000 people on the top that day. While some of people were foreign tourists, many were white South Africans. On our last trip to the Grand Canyon we saw a cross-section of America there, white, black, hispanic, asian, etc. So a black American will encounter a very different enviroment when visiting South Africa. I discussed my impression with several American blacks who had visited South Africa recently and they said they felt uncomfortable when there for that very reason. I mentioned this to the couple, simply to prepare them since they had asked about what to expect.

tuckeg is offline  
Jan 21st, 2006, 10:21 PM
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I only wish to point out something in your original post:

>>>Listen to the radio, you'll hear refernce to the Spanish immigrants...<<<

Unless there has been a recent influx of immigrants fleeing the hardships of Madrid and Barcelona, I believe you are likely referring to Mexican and Central American immigrants. These immigrants are no more "Spanish" than you are British, Dutch or wherever your family originally came from in Europe.
Roccco is offline  
Jan 21st, 2006, 10:29 PM
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Hello all: I have a bit of a different perspective. I am a white American who grew up during the 60s and was always ultra liberal.I came to SA, leaving my family, job, and home to be a doctor in rural KZN as an expert in pediatric HIV.I now am going home.

Kavey knows my story, and actually when I tried to post my story here it was deleted by administration. To put it bluntly, I was the only doctor for about 2 million people who knew anything about pediatric AIDS. I am not the easiest person in the world to get along with, am very impatient, but those who know me know that I only mean the best for my patients.

The Zulu staff hated me. They could care less that the mortality rate dropped by 100% in their nursery, they just wanted their tea time and to keep the status quo. I was basically attacked by a crowd of Zulu men in my workplace, bodily wrestled to the ground and carried out. No one came to my aid. I was charged with racism and assault.

Like an idiot, I stayed. I went to an even more rural clinic that sees 15,000 patients a month with NO DOCTOR. Again, the staff hated me; the patients loved me. One day when the regular head nurse was not present, I was threatened by the "new breed" of young Zulus who hates whites and decided to pack up and leave.

The government could care less.People are starving. My area was 60% positive for HIV. There is no doctor now and not one person has called to see what the problem was.

This discussion hertofor has not been about the real problem in SA. Oprah comes and gives out new sneakers. They probably sold them to get food. The government here spends money on political junkets when people are starving. Very few of my pediatric patients has a blood protein level that was near normal. They live on corn meal and dirty water. They have never seen a toy. The school do not have toilets or books and the passing rate to get a high school diploma is 33%.On Christmas day, about 60 Zulus drown each year in the ocean.Children are left unclaimed on the beach, go to a shelter, and are picked up weeks later when the parents can afford to feed them.

We can wax on about the new and the old SA, but the fact of the matter is that when you leave the big city, this place is as bad as Darfur!! I am writing this from my lovely beachfront house that I can't get rid of, and am going out for a late and a muffin but wake up guys. This is Africa. People get killed for a cell phone. Sure the middle class Zulu probably thinks they have died and gone to heaven. But there are 8 million Zulus who have no doctors, no housing and no food. The end of apartheid has done nothing for them.

kimwhits is offline  
Jan 21st, 2006, 10:30 PM
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(Really, these immigrants are even less Spanish than you, as a self described "whitey" are European, since the term "Spanish" completely ignores their combined Spanish/indigenous American ancestry)
Roccco is offline  
Jan 22nd, 2006, 03:43 AM
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Tuckeg, you have a point: I am seeing ghosts where none exisit. Rocco, thank you and noted, my reference to Spanish was a language reference rather than geographic origination. I am a whitey, term we use in Africa, however my ties with Europe go back to the 1820n settlers: I consoder myself an African. Now should II enjoy ciitizenship in the USA does that make me an African-American?

I will repeat thye motive for this post: I would like to appreciate the views shared by others on racism in So Africa. My opinion, based on the ability to understand and comprehend the various cultures, not to boast of the language that I speak, is that racisim is dead and buried.

I am begining to see that perhaps it is not. I am beginning to understand that the growth in SA is not as meaningful as I think it is. And so.

Please continue to add. Tuckeg, I trust that this answers some of your questions? Oh and by the way the comments on an earlier forum troubled me, I never saw racism in the comments.
mkhonzo is offline  
Jan 22nd, 2006, 06:23 AM
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Surprise, surprise - the term Afro-American or African-American is offensive to many Americans of hue. They consider themselves Americans... never been to Africa; any relative slaves are too many generations ago for them to even relate. Mind you, this is not how all feel, but quite a majority; and don't wish to be treated in any special way other than as an American. Actually find it offensive when so-called black leaders refer to all blacks as a group and as African-American.

Generally, in most societies, it's where one fits on the economic level that forms your opinions, attitudes and thinking. Even America has its class system. The rich, the high-middle class; middle-class, the working poor, the poor. And, of course, The Wealthy - in the Bill Gates and Oprah category... not even basketball, baseball and Hollywood-types fall into this category... they're just rich.

As to Oprah handing out gifts... most of the children wanted school uniforms and be able to go to school. The little "black" dolls and sneakers were sweet (PR) gestures, but missed the mark.

When in CPT, we had a "colored" guide, a Muslim and in the middle of Ramadan. His father white British, mother native colored as their families (both) have been in South Africa over 250-years. So who's a South African?

While it was refreshing to see mix white, black and colored in the service industry in CPT... something that 10-years earlier would have been unheard of, there was an undercurrent that could be felt simmering. Then, one evening my partner and I had drinks and dinner with the brother of a sister who is a business associate living in the States. The sister had warned that her brother was strange... and strange they were; rather they were racists. He and his female companion were obviously not at all pleased that Apartheid was over. Within 5-minutes I wanted out of there or someone would have a fist in her face... that's how angry I was getting. This came to a head when eating dinner and the women called the waitress "Susie" (a commen maids name) though her name tag in large letters clearly showed Michelle. I boiled and as I pushed back my chair, my hand came up... which, thankfully, my partner grabbed it, layed down cash to pay for dinner we had just started... and we left. No good-night, no pleasantries... just outta there. A very upsetting and appalling episode. Thankfully, that was the only such incident during our visit to South Africa.

Considering that school segregation has been outlawed only 50-years in the States, schools are still segregated; now, however, due more by where one lives. Black neighboorhoods, have primarily black schools, but the choice to enroll in another school is available.

We all have a long way to go, regardless which country in which we live, none of us can think that all is fine... nor whether it will ever be all fine and "we can all get along." Everyone has to take their heads out from between their butts!
Jan 22nd, 2006, 09:36 AM
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I worked in a bookshop in South Africa for several years. The most hilarious episode I can remember involved a black woman with an American accent who demanded to know where the African American section was. I had to politely inform her that we only had an African African section.

On the subject of racists in South Africa...there are many racists in South Africa and they come in all colours, shapes and sizes. There are coloureds who don't like blacks. There are Zulus who don't like Xhosa's. There are Afrikaaners who don't like the English. There are whites who don't like blacks. Blacks who don't like coloureds. And many people of all origins who don't like Americans. The list goes on.
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