Black South Africans hit out at suggestion rise in white poverty means 'now there is equality'

Institute for Race Relations says white poverty is increasing - but still pales in comparison to levels of black poverty

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The Independent Online

A series of photographs of a poor white community in South Africa, presented to suggest there is now “equality” in the country more than 20 years after apartheid, has been met with an angry backlash among black South Africans.

The work of photographer Jacques Nelles showed a white squatter camp in the Munsieville township, west of Johannesburg, where around 200 members of the Afrikaner minority group live in poverty but apparent relative comfort.

Yet the images have provoked anger among many black South Africans after they were presented in a Mail Online article suggesting that “now there is equality” between the races.

The article itself points out that only 42,000 out of 4.5 million white South Africans, roughly 0.9 per cent, are believed to live in poverty.

That compares to some 27 million black people deemed as living in poverty in the country, or 63 per cent of the 43 million population.

Nelles said the Munsieville camp was “similar to any black township I've been to”, and said that what most struck him was “the amount of children I saw, living in squalor”.

Yet the camp’s community leader, Irene van Niekerk, told the local newspaper last year that the squatters want for little, with about one mobile toilet per two households and about six taps with running water. “All we might need is gas stoves,” she told the Krugersdorp News.

Rudzani Floyd Musekwa, a columnist for The Herald newspaper, told The Independent the widely-shared series of photographs had caused an “uproar” in South Africa.

“Black squatter camps are a far cry from that which is pictured here, with tens of family members sharing a room in the kind of squalor that will make you sick,” he said.

“So-called ‘white poverty’ is not news in this country, but an insult to the poverty that blacks face on a daily basis even more than 20 years into democracy.”

Asked if the images showed there is now equality in South Africa, Mr Musekwa said “there is no such thing”, and that there could only be an equal society in the country when the “assumed political power” of black people since 1994 translated to “economic freedom, equality and opportunity”.

Others expressed outrage at the story on social media, with North-West University researcher Thato Majele calling it “propaganda for white privilege”.

And user Siphathisiwe wrote: “No one should live in poverty but these guys choose to focus on the 42,000 instead of the 27 million? Sigh.”

Frans Cronje, the chief executive of South Africa's Institute for Race Relations, has previously questioned whether white poverty levels had risen at all since the end of apartheid.

He has since said white poverty levels “have increased”, but that they need to be put into perspective against the far greater - and also rising - levels of black poverty.

Mr Cronje told Australia’s ABC News: "It's not to say that whites who are poor are not a problem, each individual case obviously is a problem that needs to be addressed. [But] when compared to black poverty levels, they tend to pale into the background.”

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