The convergence of culture, no rx race and ethnic groups at competing intersections can be problematic. That is what the nation of South Africa encounters on a daily basis. And they have not yet created a plan to navigate the tricky politics and social awkwardness that these encounters create. In this post apartheid era, ed what seems to have developed within the society and social order is a disposition of passively waiting for something to happen, something to change. Perhaps, after an era of so much violence and upheaval, it is natural to be in a state of apparent stasis. It certainly was the case in the era directly following the intense struggle and violence of the civil rights movement in the U.S. Immediately following was what seemed to be a passive almost detached reticence or compliance with what was “won” during the struggle and no real urgency to continue the fight– all in an effort to concede more than to fight for more.
In South Africa, there is a culture of violence. The United States of America is not different in that regard. The revolution within the very recent past here in South Africa saw the oppressive, inhumane and brutal system of apartheid ultimately overturned. It gives this place a distinction from the struggle that we claim in the U.S. The intense disparity in wealth and how that wealth is distributed compounded by barriers of language, class and culture has created a huge “under” class of people who look towards generational poverty and illiteracy as the lasting legacy of the apartheid and colonial system that did not allow Black African people to live, work and cultivate their own lands. Seventy-nine percent of the land wealth in South Africa is privately owned and although some of that ownership is foreign and corporate it is predominantly white. Social science directly correlates the level of violent crime within a society to the levels of poverty, illiteracy and feelings of despair. However, when one considers South Africa, one cannot help but recognize that in addition to those factors, the legacy of violence within this nation’s recent history must also be a contributing factor. “Chickens coming home to roost” like my Dad always says.
Black South Africans struggle because they have always had to struggle. There are also an increasing number of poor whites here within the country. This is mainly due to the new constitution that requires by law equal representation in all government employment and within companies that contract with the government. That immediately put a lot of whites out of a job. Not white professionals in the middle class or above or whites with an education. No. This was mostly the white population that was undereducated, or not educated at all, but still retained the best jobs during apartheid, because Blacks were prohibited from supervising whites or holding positions that were above or over whites. South Africa offers US a mirror to look at ourselves in contemporary America, because their history is so recent that they can still touch it. They stand in the Space in between and it is almost always a painful place to be. At least in South Africa, they are willing to face that awkward and painful conversation with some courage and conviction.
Artistic Director and Founder
The Conciliation Project
Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University
Up Next Week: Laying Claim to Africa and Are there white Africans?