Apartheid’s Heritage: Continuing Struggles in South Africa

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Article published in The Funambulist 18 (July-August 2018) Cartography & Power. Click here to access the rest of the issue.

For South Africa, the year 2018 marks 24 years since the end of a brutal and shameful system that aimed at racial segregation, oppression, and disposition, characterized by an authoritative rule based on white supremacy. The overcoming of Apartheid policy, that had designed institutional racism and created inequalities, was one of the most significant political victories for South African people, leading South Africa into a democratic state in 1994 and painting the picture of a “rainbow nation.” This depiction assumes a community in which citizens are living in harmony and unity despite all odds. Parallel to this, South Africa has internationally and locally become well known as a country with a forward-thinking constitution enshrining many different liberties like same-sex marriage and freedom of expression and movement, and also boasts the exemplary leadership of former-President Nelson Mandela.

But what does that mean for someone like myself, a Black female born in 1991 and raised in less-privileged circumstances in Johannesburg’s South Western Townships? Understanding the country’s political history as a tremendous focal point in exploring its need for structural transformation, I generally think that post-Apartheid South Africa has inherited many of the problems from its past. Although there are many examples of success in the attempts of equalization and the extension of social welfare and services to millions living in the country, South Africa’s economic legacy and racial injustices have not disappeared. Since 1994, economic indicators such as poverty, inequality and unemployment have been on the rampage. An exceptionally high amount of poverty remains, especially among Black people, with South Africa being the most unequal economy in the world. An approximated 95% of the country’s wealth is in the hands of 10% of the minority white population. These continuing conditions manifest themselves in thousands of localized struggles.

From various townships like Alexander in Johannesburg, which neighbors the expensive “economic hub” in Sandton, and as far as rural regions in Mpumalanga, Limpopo, and KwaZulu-Natal, many people of color are unemployed. Some to this day still have to deal with limited sanitation, such as the lack of running water and indoor toilets. A number of people of color can’t escape living in corrugated steel shacks, which often house families of six or more. On top of this, they have to face mediocre public services in clinics and schools. The other part of our society, however, is financially privileged and has access to institutions with high-quality services.

Hence, there are daily demonstrations in different parts of the country. Citizens are frustrated with the slow economic and social change. Subsequently, they go out into the streets to demand basic services. These daily protests mirror the many problems we have; the country is defined by and known for them. In the past few years, protests like #FeesMustFall made it to our streets. The youth of the country demanded an accessible educational system that stops sidelining those who cannot afford tuition, and which includes and assists those from disadvantaged backgrounds to further their studies. The struggle for education is nothing new, given that the youth in 1976 broke out into protests against the poor curriculum designed for Black schools, called Bantu education. Today, each academic year, many students, including myself, queue at student funding offices hoping our debts and fees can be paid. However the struggle goes beyond this, as there is also a need for money towards meals and commuting to campus. Those of us who cannot afford local transportation and additional meals can’t just go on and focus on academic tasks, not until these problems are solved and the costs are covered.