How much has changed in South Africa?
Walking to the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) campus shuttle stop, I pass meter high black letters that still say, “Free Mandela.” Although he’s free and has passed his goodness down through his years of presidency, South African people are still oppressed.
Kayalitcha, the closest township to UCT, sits on the Cape’s worst plots of real estate. Shanty shacks – some burnt down and abandoned, some still standing – stagger the landscape as far as the eye can see. These deedless homes are laced with drying laundry on strings like telephone wires.
Electricity can only be found in its residents. They provide their own energy to get water when they walk down the street to fill up their buckets. Their dishwasher is their set of two hands. Their stove is the fire they build. Their air conditioner is the ocean down the road.
Meanwhile, the residents of Camps Bay have three-car garages, sandy lawns and balconies to have their morning coffee on. They wine and dine at night after coming home from their jobs in the city. The only part of Kayalitcha life that they experience is when their house cleaner shows up weekly.
The difference between these two worlds – make no mistake – is color. Apartheid still trickles down Cape Town’s spine. Symptoms of poison haunt the stacks of shacks and loom guilt over the white painted homes of luxury.
Americans see Apartheid as the embodiment of oppression and evil racism. Like the Civil Rights Movement, the struggle for South Africa was the struggle to establish human dignity and freedom. Most importantly, it was the struggle for lost equality to be found.
The problem was – and will continue to be – more of an economical concern than a political one to those in charge. However, it was based upon and functions on something much deeper: racism. After 1948, when Afrikaners came to power, the economic concerns of the British imperials took a backseat to segregation and fear of equality.
The economic upper hand was part of Afrikaner racist ideology. In 1950, the Population Registration Act made it mandatory for every South African to fit into a specific racial group: white, black or coloured (those of mixed race). This was decided at birth and from that moment on – a passbook must be carried at all times to distinguish oneself in one of those categories.
This disallowed mixed residential or commercial areas from existing and allowed for forced removals to take place, creating areas such as the infamous District 6. As a result, vast quantities of African people became neither urban nor rural. Population density and severe lack of agricultural opportunity attributed to the urbanization, while lack of services and employment matched with isolation made it rural.
Africans were given land, but not citizenship. Hendrik Verwoerd, an Afrikaner politician who became Prime Minister in 1958, believed that this “internal decolonization” by separation would allow each culture to live and exist separately and equally. Chiefs were appointed by the government to rule the Bantustans where African natives were forced to move. Ruled through Afrikaner figurehead leaders, promises of autonomy and “decolonization” through segregation were simply myths.
Yes, black South Africans were removed from their land and forced to move into “reserves” in their own Trail of Tears. Yes, this is social engineering. But, this land had been settled for years. This stolen land is now inhabited by the grandchildren of those who stole it.
Can it really be redistributed in all fairness? Can the victims of Apartheid’s human dumping grounds ever go back to their rightful home without taking it away from someone else?
The answer is the same as it was and is for the Native Americans. Movement is as futile as it is necessary to the compassionate heart. Fairness isn’t in the equation. Money rules. White people still hold the best land and the best jobs.
The Apartheid disease still erodes South Africa. Action is spoken of and then freezes. A solution never seems to appeal to all parties.
What would be “fair” is for all Africans to regain their land and for jobs to be provided to them in order to make enough money to maintain that land. But, every action has a reaction and that land and those jobs must come from somewhere. A role reversal between black and white populations doesn’t end oppression – it just changes the color of the problem. Innocent people are still punished. Oppression still bites to bleed.
The only reasonable answer is knowledge. Those who were robbed of land, economic opportunity and the dignity of equal citizenship should be given the only kind of power that does not restrict the power of others. Education could attempt to cleanse the wounds of Apartheid.
Free job training would allow black and white people to have equal opportunities in the employment market. Power is put into the hands of people to do with it as they choose. Competition becomes a beacon of hope for monetary elevation and for democracy.
Education of compassion would hopefully infuse itself into the culture through lessons of history and literature that show the shadows of the past. Light can finally shine evenly on the faces of South Africans once everyone is exposed to it.
Leigh Greaney is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.