Moments That Made The Year : Divisions of the past still cloud the rainbow nation

Abolished in theory, apartheid is everywhere, writes Mary Braid

The deflation was sudden. One moment Aluwani Netsianda, 25-year- old press officer for the new, democratically elected, ANC-led council, was striding confidently up the path outlining plans for the former "independent" homeland Venda; the next he was tongue-tied, unsure, eyes cast down.

The man responsible was standing ahead of us - a fat, blond white South African policeman. Despite all the conscious raising on the long road to freedom, Mr Netsianda was reduced to "boy" again in the presence of "baas". "He used to beat me up during demonstrations," an embarrassed Mr Netsianda explained later.

It seems almost trite that race dominates a country like South Africa; but six months into my stint here, its all- pervasiveness still shocks.

Two years after the end of white minority rule Mr Netianda's humiliation is a subtle moment in the racial shake-down under way. Now and again there are more obscene flashes, like the middle-aged woman who cocked her thumb towards the run-down huts at the bottom of her garden, during my search for a house to rent, and said: "You can have him if you like. If you don't want him, we'll evict him." She was referring to the black gardener who lived on the premises.

She went on to offer some advice about handling lazy "bleks". That was in your face. More often the racism lurks, shark-like, beneath the surface, the real root of some other "problem". Ask white South Africans why they have forsaken Johannesburg's city centre in their tens of thousands, moving offices nearer their luxurious, and increasingly fortified, homes in the predominantly white northern suburbs and they will answer: crime.

The city centre's crime rate is undeniably high. But scratch a little and discover the seldom mentioned bogeyman - Africa: squalid, poor and black, which the continent's white South Africans, eyes forever fixed on Europe, have for centuries tried to ignore. In the northern suburbs the city could be Surrey. So it was once with the centre when rich white ladies in long white gloves met for tea served by black waiters, banished to townships after dark.

But when legislation designed to keep blacks down - and out of white areas - began to crumble, the dark continent began to seep and then flood through. Whites, appalled at the loss of ownership, evacuated. Dennis Beckett, a South African journalist, calls the retreat to high walls and panic buttons the "look-at-Africa-and-run-like-hell" syndrome. It is a dangerous condition; it helps keep apartheid in place without the need for legislation.

Despite the aspirations of President Mandela's rainbow nation there are still two South Africas; one white, the other black. Whites generally drive cars; blacks queue for mini-buses. Road-repair gangs are black; foremen white.

Against the background of this social schizophrenia, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has wrestled this year to heal a sick society. The state- sanctioned violence that was required to keep racial madness in place has been laid bare in testimony to the commission, and in the recent court case involving the self-confessed state assassin Eugene de Kock. But many whites remain strangely blinkered, even blind.

During a three-week trip to Rwanda in November I encountered the feared dark heart of Africa. In this lush, green country dominated by spectacular volcanic mountains the international press corps was on Hutu refugee watch. Two years before the hotel we shared in Gisenyi, on the border with Zaire, was the headquarters for Hutu militias as they carried out the genocide of 800,000 Tutsis. Few of us swam in the beautiful hotel pool. In 1994 it had been filled with the corpses of men, women and babies.

Across the border in rebel-held Goma, squalor nestled next to opulence. In President Mobutu's luxurious lakeside villa, giant, gallon-size bottles of pure French perfume decorated the his 'n' hers Jacuzzis. A quarter of a mile down the road Mr Mobutu must have travelled to reach his holiday home was the crumbling block of flats which until the rebellion had housed his unpaid and corrupt armed forces. This was the African caricature. A continent of war, violence, poverty and tin-pot dictators.

When I returned to South Africa, whites discussed the Great Lakes crisis as if it was happening on another planet. "It's tribal, isn't it?" said one white female colleague. "How could Mobutu live like that when his people were so poor?"

She could connect violence and the cruel indifference of the ruler to the ruled to "black on black" violence at home. But she was blind to any connection with the violence perpetrated by South Africa's own white tribe, despite months of harrowing testimony at the truth commission.

Among South Africa's blacks there is a strong feeling that no one will pay for the sins of the past. One of the saddest moments of the past six months occurred in October outside a Durban court when General Magnus Malan, former Defence Minister, and one of apartheid's most hated figures, was cleared of murder after a seven-month trial failed to prove that he issued orders leading to the massacre of 13 people in a village south of Durban.

A grinning General Malan stood on the steps outside the court professing his innocence and Christianity. A few feet away Anna Ntuli, who lost three daughters and her husband in the KwaMakutha massacre, stood quietly watching. She was bewildered. "My children and my husband died and yet no one killed them," she said. Then she began to cry.

South Africa Correspondent

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Night job: Pacha nightclub DJ, Joan Ribas, is the new kingmaker on the island
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family
film'I survived it, but I’ll never be the same,' says Arash Amel
Life and Style
Retailers should make good any consumer goods problems that occur within two years
tech(and what to do if you receive it)
Life and Style
healthIf one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
Life and Style
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K YR1: SThree: At SThree, we like to be dif...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer

£30 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software / Web Developer (PHP / MYSQL) i...

Guru Careers: Account Executive

£18 - 20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Executive is needed to join one...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Software Engineer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software Developer / Software Engineer i...

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada