South Africa's new underclass: poor whites

KITTY VAN ZYL throws another batch of homemade sausage fritters in the frying pan. Nearing the end of another nightly cook-in for hundreds of neighbourhood children and adults, she complains bitterly in her native Afrikaans about indifference to human misery.

"I asked the local Kentucky Fried Chicken for its leftovers," says Mrs Van Zyl, 42, saviour of Sanddrift East, a dustbowl Cape Town housing scheme. "But the manager said he would rather give them to the local black squatter camp." In the new South Africa, few have been more devastated by change than the growing army of poor whites. In the old days of apartheid the weakest and least educated whites were cushioned by the National Party; Afrikaners were particularly favoured.

State-owned industries like the railways and post office operated like job-creation schemes. Today, though rich whites moan about transformation, their lives have hardly altered. But those at the bottom of the previously privileged heap are struggling as businesses are streamlined and affirmative- action programmes, designed to redress decades of racism, kick in.

On streets, whites jostle with black hawkers for begging space at road junctions. And in places like Sanddrift East, one of the last whites-only public housing schemes thrown up by the outgoing National Party, every day is a battle to survive. Most working-class whites could once rely on the bungalow, double garage and de rigueur family pool. No longer.

At Sanddrift's community soup kitchen children and mothers gather round the cooker. For many, the fritters are the only meal of the day. Some seem resigned to their place in the new South Africa; others are bitter and eager for scapegoats. "No one wants to employ a white man these days," says Ian Reid, 32, a father of two, retrenched in favour of blacks. He says he never supported the old regime but claims the new government is discriminating against whites as the Nationalists did against blacks. When jobs were plentiful in state-run concerns, whites hardly noticed the absence of a welfare state. Now they struggle to pay state school fees and medical bills. Many, like Mr Reid, are threatened with eviction for rent arrears. "The housing woman told me flat out," he says. " `Pay up or hand over the house. There are plenty of blacks waiting'." Already five Coloured (mixed-race) families have moved into Sanddrift. A Coloured woman stands in the soup-kitchen queue, apparently welcome. Mr Reid has odd opinions for a non-racist: if a white family takes over his home he says he will swallow; if a black family moves in he will burn it down.

His neighbour, Sonia Senekal, 33, is more barefaced; she is furious Sanddrift is changing colour. "I just don't like blacks," she says. "Sometimes I just cry because I cannot take all this. I was not raised for it." Despite protestations, racism is a constant background noise. As privilege seeps away, many are in no doubt as to where it is going. But when Michelle, a well-educated thirtysomething down on her luck, says she is not racist she is convincing. The old system, she says, was rotten. But that does not ease her shame at her circumstances. "Please do not take my picture," she begs. "My husband's family is in England." Her builder husband works a 16-hour day and barely keeps the wolf from the door. "Sanddrift is a hellhole," she says. "The place is full of people climbing into bottles because they cannot face sending their kids to bed hungry." She just wants to run. "If I could go tomorrow I would. We were saving up to leave South Africa but we used up every penny when my husband became unemployed last year."

Statistics about white poverty are scarce but everyone working with the poor accepts it is rising. The Ark, a church-run project, houses 1,000 homeless. Two years ago 40 per cent of its clients were white; today that has doubled. Yolande Blom, manager of the low-cost Communicare housing organisation, says poor whites are forming a larger proportion of her clients. She says they elicit little interest or sympathy. This week Anthea Jefferey, of the SA Race Relations Institute, said more affirmative action, encouraged in a new employment Bill, would increase racial tension. But Mrs Blom says that in Communicare's mixed-race housing schemes most families get along. "The good thing ... is that poor people are having to struggle together."

It remains to be seen if Mrs Van Zyl will still do the soup run when the majority of her neighbours are not white.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Midweight

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Front End Developer

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Front End Developer - Midweight / Senior

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks