Post-Racial South Africa? - Nope

While this media attention seems to revolve around the recent murder of Eugene Terre’Blanche, racial tension has been brewing in South Africa for a long time. A lot of people I have been speaking to about this problem - mostly white liberals with good intentions - are actually shocked to hear that blacks and whites there aren't living harmoniously in "post-racial" South Africa.

I think this false view of that society comes from this belief in America that when apartheid officially ended in South Africa in 1993, somehow racism and segregation also ended at the same time. In addition, because of the dismal coverage in the U.S. media of international news and especially fair and balanced news about Africa, Americans have very little knowledge about race relations in post apartheid South Africa.

Twenty years ago, rock stars were putting on benefit concerts and college students rallied in support of a free South Africa. Today the country barely gets any attention unless it has something to do with the high crime rate and the upcoming Fifa World Cup. Interestingly enough, one would think that Zimbabwe is the only African country dealing with racial strife, when in fact, both that country and South Africa have the same shared history of apartheid. Of course, the ongoing madness of Robert Mugabe and his campaign to rid the nation of its white farmers make for intriguing news bits internationally.

I was last in South Africa about two years ago, and I can tell you that the racial hostility being exhibited prominently now has always been simmering at the surface, waiting to overflow. It is still generally a segregated society. For example, in Johannesburg blacks for the most part live in the poorer townships, while the whites live in highly secured communities in the suburbs. Cape Town is mostly white and black and brown folks venture into the city if they have to work there, otherwise they stay in their own communities.

Even in casual conversations with both South Africans, race is always a central topic. While in the country, I always hear constant complaining from both races about the other group. I would argue that South Africans today talk and argue about race more than Americans, and Americans are usually the ones accused of always race-baiting.

So it seems like the murder of Terre’Blanche may have tipped over the boiling racial pot. It will be interesting to see how the country copes in the next few days.



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