Bernard Feng on how and why race continues to be an issue in South Africa even after Apartheid

One of the remaining relics of the Apartheid Era

South Africa is an interesting country in that it is one of the most prosperous economies in Africa and part of the G-20. It is also a country with a very strong sense of community, having survived a tragic period of Apartheid. In a post-Apartheid South Africa, where Thabo Mbeki famously said that South Africa belongs to everyone regardless of skin colour, there is a shining example of peaceful integration between the indigenous people and the white descendants of the British and Boer settlers.

Nevertheless, there still seems to be a problem regarding race in South Africa. The indigenous people have gained political equality with their white counterparts, but just because Apartheid has come to an end does not mean that socioeconomic racial divides are a thing of the past. Some indigenous Africans still live in impoverished townships, some of which feature toilets that have no walls whatsoever, and Julius Malema, the leader of the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL), has recently been found guilty of hate speech, singing ‘Shoot the Boer’ at a university rally in the wake of a controversial video where Afrikaner students seemed to be urinating on black porters. It seems that the shining example of racial equality and liberal multiculturalism has a few racial problems of its own.

Last year, Eugene Terre’Blanche, the leader of the white-separatist/white-supremacist Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB), was murdered by black labourers on his farm, apparently over a wage dispute. The AWB during Apartheid expressed a desire to maintain the then-current system of whites over blacks, and were willing to spark civil war to do so. After the election of the Nelson Mandela, the AWB shifted their goals to separatism, expressing a desire to create a separate, all-white Boerestaat with aspirations of expanding into areas not predominantly populated by whites.

The murderers, one Chris Mahlangu and one teenage boy, currently stand trial over the murders. While initially claiming to have fought Terre’Blanche in self-defence, an analysis by Ian van der Nest reveals that Terre’Blanche was asleep and did not even fight back. What is also interesting is the fact that the murderers turned themselves in shortly afterwards, but still refusing to plead guilty until very recently when Mahlangu expressed a shocking apology for the murder.

The teenage boy was not given due process. Constable Peter Modise questioned him without the consent of his parents and failed to read him his rights, thereby violating the Child Justice Act.

Whatever the case may be, the trial and the circumstances behind Terre’Blanche’s death seemed to have re-opened old wounds. The AWB understandably vows vengeance for Terre’Blanche’s murder, which is one of many attacks on white farmers that have been a growing trend for years. Some white farmers suggest that the attacks on white farms are racially motivated, while other people say that it is part of a bigger problem of crime in South Africa.

Apartheid may have come to an end, but only relatively recently; it has left a legacy, leaving whites and blacks still economically divided, such as income, land ownership, and unemployment. The greatest irony of it all is that, although the indigenous demographics seems to be on the more unfortunate end of the socioeconomic scale, at least statistically, the country is run by a party that takes pride in bringing down Apartheid, a cabinet that comprises blacks, whites, Asians, and other people of colour. It seems very utopian and racially balanced at the top, but what is happening in everyday life is not quite the case.

There is also the fact that there is a major dichotomy between the origins of white and black communities. The black are the indigenous population, while the white community is a by-product of the legacy of British and Dutch imperialism. South Africa is not like America in that most Americans have, at one point, come from somewhere else, it is a country that has to deal with the fact that it has been colonised by European powers, and therefore, have to come terms with the definition of South Africa as a state, as a culture, and as a people.

Some people might be puzzled as to why Terre’Blanche’s death would create so much cause for concern. After all, his organisation was responsible for the attacks of the World Trade Centre in Johannesburg in an attempt to sabotage the 1994 elections that saw the African National Congress elected, in addition to other attacks on black individuals. Nevertheless, murder and the fallout thereafter is still very symptomatic of deeper issues that South Africa must address if it is to continue its path to racial equality and bringing an end to the legacy of Apartheid.


Bernard Feng

Image Credit- Anton Raath