Saturday, June 13, 2009

The after-effects of apartheid continue to be felt in South Africa

I was saddened and depressed to read a lengthy article in the Daily Mail on crime in South Africa, my former homeland, particularly as it affects the farming community. It's worth reading, if you have the time.

The truly sad thing about it is, much (if not most) of this problem stems from the days of apartheid. Under racist rule, Black education was deliberately 'dumbed down', underfunded and neglected, to the point where a Black Grade 12-equivalent education was no better than a White Grade 8 or 9. A White Prime Minister, Hendrik Verwoerd, famously went on record in the 1960's as saying that Black people were the Biblical children of Ham; that they were destined to be 'hewers of wood and drawers of water'; and that he intended their education to fit them for that role, and for nothing more.

As a result, millions upon millions of Black high school graduates weren't equipped to handle a modern working environment. They were - and many still are - not only unemployed in massive numbers, but unemployable in anything except menial labor or low-skill positions. Combined with a struggling economy that can't provide enough jobs, this has led to staggering unemployment rates - it's estimated that up to a third of the South African workforce is unemployed in the formal sector. Many make a living in the informal sector, or 'underground economy', but many more turn to crime.

Furthermore, under apartheid, Whites (less than 10% of the population) were given something like 87% of the land. Blacks (over 80% of the population) were restricted to the remaining 13%, much of it far from arable. Many Black individuals and communities lost their land through forced expropriation and resettlement, both before apartheid as such was implemented, and after it had become the law of the land. As a result, fierce resentment among many Blacks of White farmers and landowners became endemic. This, too, is now contributing to the crime wave against them.

The post-apartheid government in South Africa has tried hard to equalize education, and boost job opportunities, and redistribute land on a 'willing seller, willing buyer' basis: but faced with such a massive backlog, and limited resources, it's not surprising that its efforts are slow to bear fruit. I said in 1994, when apartheid was finally abolished and democratic rule achieved, that South Africa would take two full generations to undo the damage that apartheid had done. Now, halfway through the first of those generations, I see no reason to amend my forecast.

It's immensely sad, a tragedy of continental proportions, that a country with so much natural wealth and such wonderful prospects should have been driven into the ground by so vile and racist an ideology. Apartheid was as poisonous and evil, in its way, as Nazism in the 1930's and 1940's. Today's troubles demonstrate that all too clearly.



Anonymous said...

Uhh, how many years ago was black apartheid ended? Notice I didn't say anything about the white apartheid that is currently happening there. Never ceases to amaze me how libs can continue to blame the problems caused by their utopean ideas on anything EXCEPT their meddling.

And before you start, no, I wasn't enamored with what was happening in SA, or the country that USED to be the breadbasket of Africa, Rhodesia. Of course I also remember when Cubans could move freely between the US and their country.

However, when the doctor comes out and says the operation was a success, but forgets to mention THAT THE PATIENT DIED, all the good intentions in the world don't mean SQUAT.

And now my country is skidding down the fascist/socialist /communist hill towards totalitarianism. The only solace I have is that once you folks finish bringing your good intentions to this country you will all have no place else to go and will be forever stuck in the morass of your making with the rest of us; except for the few more equal animals of course.

Peter said...

Anonymous, to a certain extent I can understand your reactions. I can even agree with some of them. For example, I agree that the present Government of South Africa is incompetent, corrupt, nepotistic, and ignorant to a frightening degree. However, it was, at least, chosen at a free and fair election by ALL the people of South Africa. It wasn't imposed on 90% of the people by the remaining 10%, in order to look after the latter's interests at the expense of the former.

Furthermore, I suspect you may be among the many White South Africans who never saw 'up close and personal' how Black South Africans were treated under apartheid. They were effectively regarded as sub-human, 'things' to be used and/or discarded as it suited the authorities. They were discriminated against in countless ways, dispossessed of their land, shunted into 'homelands' where the majority of them had never lived and didn't want to live, deprived of their citizenship to be 'granted' citizenship of these arbitrary 'homelands' (recognized by no other country on Earth), forced to perform menial labor for pittance wages, subject to arbitrary arrest and sometimes torture by the security forces (read the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for many examples), and so on. If you or I had been treated like that, what makes you think we wouldn't harbor extreme prejudice towards our oppressors?

No. Apartheid had to go, despite the costs involved in getting rid of it. The pain of post-apartheid South African society is directly traceable to the years of discrimination, and will take many more years to fade away. One can't undo fifty-odd years of legalized discrimination in fifty-odd months. There are whole generations involved.

If South Africa does descend into chaos and anarchy (which I most sincerely pray won't happen), the root cause of that will be very clear. To refer to the abolition of apartheid in terms such as 'the operation was a success, but the patient died' is to use loaded language that obscures the reality of the situation. South Africa was dying under apartheid. The termination of that oppression at least gave the 'patient' a new lease on life, and the possibility of recovery. If the recovery doesn't work, the damage done by apartheid will still be the root cause of the patient's demise.

For the last half of the twentieth century, the South African government could have educated all peoples of the country, established a thriving middle class (in economic terms) and thrown open the wealth of the nation to all who were willing to work for their share of it. They adamantly refused to do so, reserving most of that wealth for the privileged few. The consequences we see before us today.

the Real_Bopha said...

@ Anonymous, my name is Sipho. I am a young black South African today. I work as debt collector for a bank, and I'm trying to build a career in computer science. My first time to touch a computer was in 2002, when I was doing Grade 12. Whether you are upset about the current government you cannot begin to compare the damage that is done by apartheid government to my people, especially the psychological effects. In my opinion, a bias towards prior privilege must exist to strike a system balance. Of course that will mean that others needs to lose resources that others need. Remember in the past it was not crime for whites to take from blacks, it was not a serious crime to a rape a black woman if you are white, while a black dude would hang for looking at a whites woman's "boobs". Today the government is faced with numerous challenges such as redistributing wealth which white minority still strongly holds on to. All of us, regardless of the race are not fully content with the current government processes, corruption, and poor service delivery and so on... In fact, black people contend with the government more that white communities, but some of our dissatisfactions are just misperceptions. The government is really trying and at some stage really working hard. The consequence of Apartheid left white young people invisible, black folk angry, Couloreds and Indians and all confused. I reckon that we'll still need at least 2 generations more to undo the effects of apartheid. Furthermore for us to heal as a nation we need to properly clean the wounds of the past before we seal them.