Two stories that highlight South Africa’s continuing divide

South Africa was a country that fascinated me when I visited it last summer and continues to fascinate me now that I am back in the UK, totally removed from what was an amazing and eye-opening experience.

Obviously, earlier this month and last the world focused on SA as it hosted what was generally acknowledged as a successful World Cup. In the immediate aftermath of the tournament, one Cape Town friend told me that I should have visited this summer, not last, in order to savour the magic and buzz he had felt throughout the tournament. And he hadn’t even been to any games, priced out of it like many other South Africans, but that’s another story….

However, from the South African World Cup there emerged all too frequent stories about the stark inequalities that still exist in the country less than two decades after the end of apartheid.

For South Africa to properly escape from the era of social and cultural apartheid may take a generation, maybe longer. You don’t reverse decades of a mentality that permeates a society as a result of a total divide of different races in a few years.

One story out of Bloemfontein highlights that rather starkly. The humiliation of Free State University black employees by former white students who forced them to carry out typical student initiation acts for a video that became a world-wide sensation for all the wrong reasons is shocking but not so surprising for many familiar with the problems of racial integration in SA.

The students claim this was a satirical take on racial integration within the country. But humiliating black workers in this way is in no way satirical, it’s not even a little bit funny.

It’s just another example of a subconscious feeling amongst certain white people in South Africa that they remain superior to the black majority. The story of the “Reitz Four”, as the offending students became known, is a dark reminder of why South Africa cannot fully escape its past.

However, the story of same-sex marriages becoming increasingly popular in the country is one that offers hope that bit by bit South Africa is emerging as a true rainbow nation. Cape Town, with what The New York Times describes as its it’s “gay-friendly culture”, is in many ways a shining example of what South Africa can become in the years ahead.

But even the Times article, largely positive about the country’s progress with same-sex marriages highlights the near total domination of gay marriage by white Afrikaners.

For those in the socially conservative and economically deprived areas of the townships and settlements, many located in the suburbs of Cape Town, they have yet to embrace the idea of same-sex marriage or engage in it.

This is probably because they are more concerned about reducing the crime rate, and ensuring they have basic facilities like running water and electricity. Afrikaners may be increasingly embracing same-sex marriage because they don’t have to fight for basic human rights like those in the townships and settlements.

The growth of same-sex marriages is a positive example of how South Africa is progressing in the post apartheid era.

But the almost total incomprehension of the idea by the black majority and the awful case of the “Reitz Four” in Bloemfontein is a stark reminder of however much progress may have been made in the last few years, there is much more that needs to happen in order for South Africa to properly break free from the shackles of its horrible past.

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2 thoughts on “Two stories that highlight South Africa’s continuing divide

  1. An interesting overview. Bloemfontein was our nearest large centre so we knew it well and my son attended the University for a while. He reckoned that his initiation as an “Englishman” was far tougher than that meted out to the Afrikanner newcomers, but the recent video was shameful on all counts.
    I never came across same-sex couples in our rural community but strangely enough, one of my good Afrikanner friends who has left the country is now in a long term same-sex relationship. Not too sure how it would have gone down in his farming home and local church.
    I know that a large number of Afrikanner “poor whites” are now living in the shanty towns alongside their African counterparts, and in many cases are now reliant on them as all chance of government support has vanished.
    The colours of the rainbow nation continue to blur into each other!

  2. Thanks for your comment Kate. Of course you are far more knowledgable in this area then I could ever be. Mine is the view of a “tourist” who paid a fleeting visit to SA last year and observes it now from afar.

    I certainly came across one or two “poor whites” whilst in Cape Town and I’ve no doubt that they too are as neglected as everyone else in the townships.

    Certainly as the NY Times acknowledges, acceptance of same sex marriage within the Afrikaner community is by no means universal but it appears they are a lot further down the line then those in the townships and settlements.

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