CAPE TOWN, South Africa — It has been nearly two decades since the system of legislation known as Apartheid came to an end in the diverse nation of South Africa. The Congress of South African Trade Unions’ general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi recently described South Africa’s “political reality” as a “ticking time bomb” due to the continuing problems of “unemployment, grinding poverty and deepening inequalities.” How did South Africa arrive in its current state, and is there hope for a prosperous future?
Although Apartheid officially began in 1948 when the all-white Afrikaner National Party came to power, roots of white supremacy and racial segregation run much deeper. Laws such as the 1913 Land Act, which forced black South Africans to live in reserves, reveal a dark history that was only a foreshadowing of things to come. Around 9% of South Africans are white, making the all-white Afrikaner National Party elected in 1948 severely misrepresent the nation’s diversity. This government began enforcing already existing policies of racial segregation on the majority black population and other minority groups.
Under Apartheid, the citizens of South Africa were subject to The Population Registration Act of 1950 – an oppressive law that was the basic framework for Apartheid. This law segregated all South Africans into racial groups – Bantu (black Africans), Colored (mixed race), White and Asian (Indian and Pakistani).
Non-whites were denied national government participation and separate public facilities were created for whites and non-whites. From 1961 to 1994, at least 3.5 million black South Africans were forcibly removed from their land and relocated to “Bantustans,” or government created “homelands” that divided up black South Africans and effectively prevented them from banding together to form a new political majority group.
This short summary is a miniscule picture of the depth of the oppression and racism that was rampant during the days of Apartheid. A new constitution took effect in 1994, repealing the Population Registration act and most other laws of segregation that formed the legal framework for Apartheid.
The fact that Apartheid officially ended 20 years ago creates an interesting dynamic in South Africa’s youth. A generation of young people are reaching adulthood as the first “free-born” generation since the end of Apartheid – people born in 1994 or later – and the conversation remains complicated as many lingering issues and after effects of Apartheid continue to heavily influence the country.
South Africa has more than 10 million unemployed people, half of them between the ages of 15 and 24. A report by South Africa’s Statistician General found that “94 percent of white children have access to piped water in their home, whereas only 27 percent of black children do.”
Statistics like these shed light on how the legacy of Apartheid has had a lasting economic impact on the country. In general, whites are still benefiting from their economic affluence during Apartheid, and non-white are still suffering from the old laws that disenfranchised them and drove them into poverty and hopelessness.
Songeziwe Pango, a black male student at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa, says the reality of Apartheid is something that he is reminded of very often. “Some argue that because I didn’t live in the era of Apartheid I have no leg to stand on, but till this day I feel the effects of it,” he says.
When asked to explain the complexities of the job market today, Pango replied that “when the new government came into power, one of the main things they needed to do was give opportunities for black people to regain the many years they had lost (during Apartheid). So they introduced Affirmative Action, Black Economic Empowerment and Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment. They gave black people chances to attend university regardless of the the marks they had received in high school because they need to redress the past issues. So, for example, if (a white person) and I had to apply for a job as an accountant, chances are that I would get the job because of the color of my skin. Many companies in SA were required to remedy the fact that most companies in SA are white-owned and black people need to catch up.”
So how does one measure the progress of racial reconciliation and find hope for a future of equality in South Africa? The Reconciliation Barometer Survey, issued in 2012 by the Institute of Justice and Reconciliation measured the following concepts in South African citizens ages 15 and above:
1. Inter-racial Reconciliation: the willingness of people of different races to trust one another, reject stereotypes, and generally get along with one another.
2. Political Tolerance: the commitment of people to put up with one another, even those whose ideas they thoroughly detest.
3. Support for the principles of Human Rights: including the strict application of rule of law and commitment to legal universalism.
4. Legitimacy: the predisposition to recognize and accept the authority of the major political institutions of South Africa.
The results of the survey are surprising. Kate Lefko-Everett, manager of IJR’s Reconciliation Barometer Survey, reveals that, “As time goes by, South Africans become increasingly less likely to identify ‘race’ as the biggest division in the country. Instead, the gap between rich and poor is named most frequently as the fault line that keeps us apart: one in four South Africans – 25 percent – answered in this way in 2012, while only 13% believe race is still our biggest division.”
Encouraging conclusions were reached in regards to South Africa’s youth becoming more willing to trust and develop relationships with peers of different race – more so, at least, than their parents’ generation. A great deal of enthusiasm and optimism exists amongst South Africa’s youth, so much so that IJR’s researchers question if these young adults are overly optimistic, considering economic forecasts and fear that South Africa’s economy may be unable to absorb their generation into the workforce.
In the two decades since the end of Apartheid, there has certainly been progress worth celebrating. Time will tell how the people and government of South Africa will continue to address the extensive issues of poverty and inequality that continue to face the country as the pursuit of unifying national identity continues.