Separate and unequal: Apartheid's legacy lives on

World View: South Africa has certainly changed since the ANC came to power, but the party's failure to tackle economic inequality is glaringly evident

Share
Related Topics

South Africa's system of apartheid was built on the simple, if false, assertion of "separate but equal". It was something that even its most complacent supporters knew to be a lie. The reality was an economy of exclusion and such an effective concentration of land, wealth and economic power in the hands of the few that it has proven remarkably resistant to change. A short drive through the country nearly 20 years after the system was formally dismantled reveals that the architecture of separate but unequal remains.

South Africa's first-world roads deliver you quickly from the prosperous town and city centres through high-walled suburbs into the satellite townships that surround them. At first glance these settlements are unrecognisable from the shanty towns in much of the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. Since the end of apartheid the African National Congress (ANC) government has built more than three million homes through its reconstruction and development programme. Tarred roads divide plots of identical houses while telegraph poles supply them with electricity. Even the colour scheme is different, with almost all these townships washed in calm pastel shades in contrast to the loud acrylics of soft-drink and telecom brands splashed across their counterparts elsewhere on the continent. Too many of South Africa's townships are still dormitory towns. There is little or nothing of the small-scale farming I am used to seeing elsewhere, the roadside furniture-makers or general bustle. They are places where the end of the month delivers meagre welfare payments and long lines stretch from lottery terminals.

In Kenya, where I live, the multiplying slums in which much of the urban population live perform a different function. They are reception centres for those leaving the rural areas and clearing houses for new entrants to the informal economy. They are often filthy and overcrowded, lacking in basic services, but they are also industrious and entrepreneurial places.

The story of Dimbaza, a settlement of some 30,000 people in the Eastern Cape, on the road towards Nelson Mandela's ancestral home in the Transkei, offers a partial explanation. Dimbaza was created in the 1960s as a dumping ground for blacks who were judged to be living illegally in white areas. There were no jobs on the other side of the forced relocation, just a long commute to the nearest white-owned businesses at King William's Town. The bleak lives led here in the shadow of official neglect were the subject of a 1974 documentary, Last Grave at Dimbaza, which was smuggled out of the country and went on to be influential in stirring international opposition to apartheid.

Over the past week I have driven across the country listening to a recording of Nelson Mandela's memoir, Long Walk to Freedom. It was a useful reminder that in the space of half a century South Africa has moved from whites-only election campaigns fought and won on the slogan "put the Kaffir in his place" to discontent at the performance of its third black president, Jacob Zuma. Things have changed but the pace and trajectory of that change is open to question. The release of new census data last year showed whites still earn six times more than blacks on average, a slight shrinking of the gap since 1994. If current trends persist then the two communities' buying power will not converge until 2061. Most analysts find even that distant date overly optimistic.

I was struck that some of the most fair-minded and sharp-eyed observers that I met were students at Mandela's alma mater, the University of Fort Hare, who said they would not be voting at next year's elections. They acknowledged the fundamental political rights that the 94-year-old – still critically ill in hospital – had delivered, but disagreed with his refusal to dismantle the structures of economic power. They were critical of the failure to clinch a better deal with the owners of the gold and platinum mines on which South Africa's relative prosperity depends. They did not see anyone on the political scene who would change that.

The ANC will survive the long-anticipated parting of its first president and win next year's vote. Beyond the Democratic Alliance, which remains a white-dominated party, the opposition is either detached or dangerously populist. The dignified Mamphela Ramphele is an effective critic of the ANC, but she entered politics from a lucrative post as chair of one of the country's largest mining firms. At the other extreme is Julius Malema, who like Mandela was a radical head of the ANC's Youth League. After being thrown out of the ruling party he has attempted to launch a new political platform calling itself Economic Freedom Fighters, which will try to attract support by calling for the mines to be nationalised.

In white South African circles there are persistent fears that the departure of the great reconciler will be the cue for an outburst of violence. When seen from the townships his long goodbye seems unlikely to trigger anything dramatic. Sindile Mngindwa, an unemployed 40-year-old who survives on a small disability allowance awarded him after he lost his hearing, had a more realistic assessment: "South Africa was like this when Mandela was alive, it will be like this after he dies."

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Read Next
Former N-Dubz singer Tulisa Contostavlos gives a statement outside Southwark Crown Court after her trial  

It would be wrong to compare brave Tulisa’s ordeal with phone hacking. It’s much worse than that

Matthew Norman
The Big Society Network was assessed as  

What became of Cameron's Big Society Network?

Oliver Wright
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn