Race & Politics in South Africa

Apartheid finished in South Africa 2 decades ago, but it has left a scar in South Africa that is still clearly evident and will continue to influence the day to day lives of all South Africans for many years to come.

Reading an article by cylist Peter Gostelow he describes how, having reached Zimbabwe on his cycle down Africa, he spent five weeks in Harare and spent the entire time with white people, whites and blacks living in 'Parallel Worlds'. I too have witnessed parallel worlds in South Africa, albeit thankfully not to the same extent. Everybody is aware of their race though: you are either white, black, indian or coloured and are reminded of this every time you fill in almost any form. Your race influences your chances of getting into university, winning a government contract, or being picked as an athlete to represent South Africa. Although people of different races do mix, I found that people predominantly spend their time with people of the same race.

Inevitabley, I have ended up being sucked into the white sphere, and it is very hard to leave this: one of my (white) colleagues lived in a 'black area' for a while, but found making friends there very difficult, as the stereotypes are so strong. She would get frustrated by people appearing to be friendly, before asking if she needed a maid! I don't think the language barrier helps much, either: South Africa has eleven official languages!

Politically, this seperation by race is unhelpful. The African National Congress (ANC) were the most prominenet group who fought apartheid, and to which Nelson Mandela belonged. They have been in power since the end of apartheid in 1994. Unfortunately many of their votes are not won on a basis of policy, but because they were the party of the struggle. Nelson Mandela has long since retired and it's new leadership is not nearly so competent (the current president has several outsanding corruption charges against him), yet regardless of their performance they will surely continue to win general elections for the forseeable future because of.

The ANC Youth League (ANCYL) can claim Nelson Mandela as one of its founding memebers. It was formed because the ANC wasn't perceived to be doing enough to end apartheid. Today its rebellious nature continues, despite the ANC being in power. Until recently it was led Julius Malema who regularly incites racial hatred, and advocates land grabbing. Thankfully the ANC have shown that they will not let the country take the Zimbabwe route, and have recently given Julius the boot.

Thanks to Nelson Mandela the country went down the route of reconcilation rather than revenge after emerging from the dark days of apartheid. Land claims, where people feel that land was taken from them unlawfully during apartheid, are settled with agreements amicable to both parties rather than Zimbabwe style land grabs. Black ownership of business is encouraged through incentives rather than compelled with force. 

Colonialism and apartheid have left an unfortunate legacy in South Africa, with huge inequality evident in everyday life. South Africa has a strong economy, however, so as long as the ANC can continue to work towards improving the livelihoods of the poor without scaring off the rich, there is a bright future ahead for this diverse land. 

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