ANC accused of racism as the rainbow loses its sheen

Click to follow
The Independent Online

As South Africa grapples to unite its colours into the one cohesive rainbow nation that Nelson Mandela pushed for in 1994, the African National Congress government is being accused of driving ever deeper divisions between blacks and whites through its obsession with racial difference.

As South Africa grapples to unite its colours into the one cohesive rainbow nation that Nelson Mandela pushed for in 1994, the African National Congress government is being accused of driving ever deeper divisions between blacks and whites through its obsession with racial difference.

As the government's conference on racism closed yesterday in Johannesburg, its white critics, including Afrikaner intellectuals calling themselves the Group of 63, said the ANC's "race-based Africanist ideologies'' had gained the upper hand over the non-racial spirit that had prevailed at the end of apartheid six years ago.

But the conference, which is a dress-rehearsal for an international event to be held in South Africa next year, happened in the same week as two appalling racist crimes - the murder of a black worker who allegedly was dragged behind a pick-up truck by his white boss, and the painting white of a black girl, an alleged shoplifter, by store staff in a conservative town.

The attacks raised the temperature at the conference - ostensibly a forum to help with nation-building by eradicating the baggage from the colonial and apartheid era - and allowed ANC ministers to hit out at the attitudes of whites, often tolerated by the authorities for being useful as employers and investors.

Pallo Jordan, an ANC MP, said that whites were now living in a state of denial. "We must stop pretending that businesses in this country did not feel comfortable with apartheid. They were happy with it until they felt it was earning them problems outside the country,'' he said.

The former South African president, FW de Klerk, who handed power to Mr Mandela in 1994, responded by saying that whites felt increasingly alienated. "The positive relations we experienced in 1994 are beginning to unravel. Many black South Africans see the relative wealth of whites not as a result of hard work but as the ill-gotten fruits of apartheid. They increasingly regard criticism from their white compatriots as racism,'' he said.

Today, 10 years after Mr Mandela's release from jail, South African society continues to be sharply polarised, despite the emergence of a black middle class. Whites and blacks do not socialise and urban whites rarely take the trouble to learn African languages.

Some whites still refer to black people as "Kaffirs'' (niggers) and their principal contact with them remains as employers. The crowds at football matches are still largely black and at rugby they are white. Blacks feel fiercely loyal to the ANC and whites generally support the Democratic Alliance, whose leader, Tony Leon, was recently accused by President Thabo Mbeki of being racist.

Whites and mixed race people (known as "coloured'') tend to stick to their own residential areas, to frequent the same churches as ever, and, often, to send their children to private schools where blacks are in a minority. Even young South Africans of different races appear to keep apart, choosing, for example to listen to widely different types of pop music.

Whites, mixed race people, and Indians, make up less than 10 million of the country's 42 million population but appear to have responded to black-empowerment measures defensively, or with resentment at the loss of their privileges.

Attacks on farmworkers by their employers seem ubiquitous, yet because the police do not record race attack specifically few academics appear prepared to speculate as to whether or not racism is on the increase. One new phenomenon which seems to be on the rise is xenophobia, expressed in physical attacks mainly carried out by black South Africans against other people from other African countries who are seen as competition in a difficult labour market.

It is likely that the national conference on race, as the Afrikaner Group of 63 claimed last week, has merely polarised views in a society in which people are so used to having a "system'' for relating to each other (apartheid) that they do not look individually within themselves for solutions.

The conference also has to be seen against the backdrop of municipal elections, due later this year, in which, in some areas, the ANC is afraid of facing defections to the DA.

Comments