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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.

In Wide Angle’s Road to Riches, learn about Uthingo, the consortium of black-empowerment companies that manages the national lottery.




Hey, if the problem in South Africa is the white people there oppressing the blacks and being racist, then you ought to rejoice that they are leaving. The fewer of them there are, the better south Africa will do.


Apartheid was separate nation states for each ethnic groups (a separate one for Afrikaners from the English btw). This was changed to white supremacy by English speaking capitalists that wanted all of South Africa and lots of cheap labour.

Apartheid will be the pretext for decades of discrimination against whites (good luck to them!) and afrikaans (will most probably disappear since desegregrated schools are English-medium schools. Don’t believe me? Look at Africa : colonialism is still blamed for everything even if it ended 50 years ago. Don’t believe me ? Look at the USA, slavery is still blamed for the ills of the Black population even if it ended in the South 150 years ago.


every white man in SA has seen a black man promoted on skin colour rather than the white mans hard work and merrit. We are sick and tired to have the bosses work on our desks, as they cannot do it, but get’s the salary for our work. SA BEE is pathetic… And the educated black man sometimes feel the same too


South Africa travel information


Dear #4. I am a South African and I totally agree with #1. It’s all hush hush, nobody will say this like it is in South Africa because everyone is tip-toeing around race scared to say anything that might offend the other. The truth of the matter darling, is that all those who are involved with BEE are not people that neccessarily come from impoverished backgrounds. It is sad to say that most of those people were not even from the trenches, they all went into exile and let everyone else fight it out so that they could come back and celebrate the ownership of production and resources with their European and American education. It is a fact that those who were in poverty in 1994 are even deeper in poverty today ( Just because you are white and claim to be outnumbered by the 95% majority in this country doesn’t mean you have an entitlement to claim prejudice. Our democracy is still new and while the majority is in power now, we still have to recover from the effects that apartheid had on this country for so many more years. Please, as a South African do me a favour and educate yourself about our country before you make claims on behalf of others.


Apartheid was the necessary political arm of what was fundamentally an economic system. People like Cecil Rhodes and the British crown had always intended for black Africans to be permanently on the bottom of the economic ladder. This phony charade of political “freedom” means nothing. You are free when you own the land of your ancestors. You are free when you can use that land and the resources of that land to feed yourself, clothe yourself, house yourself and provide for your own self defense. By any statistic, black South Africans are not free, because they don’t own and control the land and resources that is their birthright and cannot use it for their own well being. Otherwise, how would they be starving and in dirt shacks with such an abundant amount of agricultural land, natural resources and industry? If all those things are not being put to use for the improvement of the black Africans of Southern Africa, then it is theft plain and simple and the people of Southern Africa will continue to die and suffer because of it.


and apartheid is gone for 15 years now, stop dwelling on the past.


to #1 = It’s very clear you don’t live in South Africa, we have something called BEE (Black Economic Empowerment) this means every company has to have 51% of the management must be black, it’s the corrupt goverment oppressing the whites in South Africa, we are rond about 40Million in South Africa, 5Million is white, now I ask you, how can it possibly be that the whites oppress the people of “color” ? When our goverment is 95% color? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a racist and I love my country, but don’t give the “rise above” speach obout a country if you don’t live in the country.


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White Europeans for centuries in order to gain power over others, they oppressed and suppressed. And, people of “Color”, as a consequence lost their sense of selves. When I traveled to Africa, Morocco & Egypt, I was in awe of the beauty of it’s people, and the beauty of the African Continent. What South Africa needs is to get out of Poverty, when the government decides to allow equal distribution of wealth, and not allow the corruption that keeps the money away from those who need it, which is their poor people, both black and white. Equal distribution of wealth, should go to all the people, and not into the pockets of corrupt officials. My best wishes to all. To the Blacks I say don’t give up hope, don’t be pessimistic, but optimistic. Study and excell, prepare yourselves for the change which has come, and will persevere. Pursue as much education as you can, so you may rule.~

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