The uncertain future of some members of the white community in South Africa


It is important that we remember that disadvantaged people do not only exist in marginalized ethnic groups but also can be from the same ethnic background as the most influential sections of society and this can create special problems.  We can see this in South Africa which shows as many examples, angles and shared societies challenges as you can imagine. It is a nation of diversity with nearly 52 million people and a wide variety of cultures, languages and religious believes. The Apartheid regime took care of the white minority and oppressed the rest. And even today the whites (just around nine per cent of the population according to the 2011 census) run the economy and have a disproportionate amount of influence in politics and media plus the best houses and the best jobs.

According to the South African Institute of Race Relations the average annual income of black people in 2011 was 2.300 dollars; mixed raced (coloured), $4.300; asians, $7.700 (this is the racial group that has seen a higher growth in their income since the early nineties) and whites $17.500. But, beyond the statistics and under the surface, there is another kind of discrimination but also violence and anger: the one that a part of the working-class white people is suffering. According to the political activist Mandla Nyaqela, this is the after effect of the huge degree of selfishness and brutality that was shown towards the black population under apartheid, the past injustices suffered collectively by black people under the hands of white dominance, from colonialism through to apartheid.

Living close to that reality, the most vulnerable segments of the white minority is having a really hard time. According to a BBC video, 200.000 whites live in squatter camps with no water, no electricity and no social security for them. Unemployment is also becoming an issue as semi-skilled white people have little chance of getting a job when so many black South Africans are unemployed.

In this context, the economic rationale and Commitment X of the Shared Societies project “Take steps to reduce tensions and hostility between communities and ensure members of all communities are protected from abuse, intimidation and violence” take a bigger importance, but not only that one. All of the ten Shared Societies Project commitments have a powerful meaning in South Africa and should be implemented, taking the needed holistic approach. Even more in a situation where cases of murders and rapes among white farmers are continuously reported. In South Africa you are twice as likely to be murdered if you are a white farmer than if you are a police officer. The countryside is becoming a dangerous place to live for whites. There used to be 60.000 white farmers in South Africa. In 20 years that number has halved.

So the full picture shows a complex reality even for the powerful white minority. And also a challenging situation where the capacity of building a real shared society will be the key to provide opportunities to all its members regardless of their origins.

Photo: AFP

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