Troubled South Africa Debates Impact of White Rule

Christopher Torchia, ABC News, April 12, 2013

Few South Africans have the moral stature of retired archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who campaigned against apartheid and now laments the crime and inequality that plague the nation two decades after it cast off racist white rule.

“We can’t pretend we have remained at the same heights and that’s why I say please, for goodness’ sake, recover the spirit that made us great,” Tutu said. “Very simply, we are aware we’ve become one of the most violent societies. It’s not what we were, even under apartheid.”

This month, South Africa reopened a conversation over the extent to which the legacy of apartheid drives persistent imbalances in services and opportunities. Some argue that current leaders lean on the past to justify squandered chances to improve South Africa and even invoke the specter of apartheid for political gain.

The fresh discussion began with reported comments by National Planning Minister Trevor Manuel that South African officials should assume full responsibility for the nation’s problems and resist the temptation to continually blame apartheid.

Those include a faltering education system, an uneven record on providing basic services and allegations of corruption and cronyism that drain public faith in the government. The African National Congress, in power since the first all-race elections in 1994, has improved housing for many poor people and presides over a society that is immeasurably more tolerant than its predecessor. But the gulf between the wealthier white minority and the millions of blacks who can’t find work and live in shacks remains wide.

“While wanting to see change happening fast in every corner of the country, we are under no illusion that South Africa will automatically and comprehensively change in only 20 years. That is impossible,” President Jacob Zuma said this week. “The legacy of apartheid runs too deep and too far back for the democratic administration to reverse it in so short a period.”


But the grim reference point of apartheid is fading among younger voters. The general elections in 2014 will mark the first time that the leading edge of the generation born after apartheid, known as the “born frees,” will be eligible to vote. An estimated 3 million young people, or 10 percent of the electorate, with no direct experience of apartheid will be able to vote.

A foundation chaired by F.W. de Klerk, the last apartheid-era president who negotiated a power transition with Mandela and later shared a Nobel Peace Prize with him, said in a statement Friday that Zuma’s references to apartheid are diverting attention from the need for effective policies.

“When President Zuma says that ‘we cannot stop blaming those who caused it,’ he is playing the very dangerous game of making whites the racial scapegoats for the manifest failures of his own government,” de Klerk’s foundation said.


Tutu made his comments Thursday in a Cape Town ceremony to celebrate his receipt of the 2013 Templeton Prize, a $1.7 million award for spiritual work, the South African Press Association reported. He recalled that South Africa was “flavor of the month” at the time of the 1994 elections, as the world saw voters waiting patiently to cast the first ballots of their lives.


White income earners make on average four times as much as blacks, according to a recent study published by the South African Institute of Race Relations, a research center based in Johannesburg.


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