Sunday, 16 August 2015

Apartheid is Dead, Long Live Apartheid

Sreerupa Sanyal Mazumder spells out the reality and phenomenon called apartheid

Any discussion about South Africa is incomplete without the accursed word ‘apartheid’.
 
Yes, the policy started by the minority white Afrikaans government for systematically segregating the blacks, coloured, and Indians from the white South Africans and dividing this beautiful nation into two starkly different entities.
 
Yet, even after 21 years of the demise of this terrible system, apartheid continues… now in veiled forms.

Mamelodi, a township situated in the east of Pretoria, South Africa’s administrative headquarter, is a case in point. Townships are underdeveloped in urban living areas that are mostly populated by blacks. These townships developed from the late 19th century up to the end of apartheid. During the apartheid era, blacks, coloured and Indians were routinely forcibly evicted from lands that the white minority government termed as 'white areas'. As such, many townships rose on the brinks of popular towns. Even now, these townships have mostly black households. The only exception being that municipal houses have now replaced shanties.

Mamelodi township
Mamelodi is located about 45 minutes drive from one of the most posh and sophisticated locales of the town, Silver Lakes which boasts of big, guarded estates where the houses are fascinating and the cars even so. Mostly domestic helps, gardeners and waiters at the Silver Lakes area’s restaurants and cafeterias, use the road that leads to Mamelodi.
 
Once into the township, the scene changes drastically. From well-paved roads and artistic gardens, one comes into unpaved and dusty roads; one can hardly see trees around this part of the town. From Mercedes and BMWs (apart from which few other cars ply in Silver Lakes), one starts seeing broken down Suzukis, pedestrians and bicycles, from serenity to chaos. An observant tourist would be shocked at the magnitude of differences between the areas. 

Silver Lakes area
The two areas just do not differ in infrastructural facilities. Mamelodi also boasts of high numbers of people affected with HIV, high teenage pregnancies and one of the highest rape crimes. Silver Lakes on the other hand boasts of celebrities like ‘Blade Runner’ Oscar Pistorious and South Africa’s jewel cricket player Faf du Plessis and many others. The area routinely churns out nations’ top doctors, lawyers, professors, civil society activists and so on.
 
Even in India, slums and highrises dwell side by side. But what makes Mamelodi different is the race. Here race is still a living, breathing entity. There are no white people in Mamelodi.

Mamelodi is just a small piece of the entire pie. Blacks, coloured, Indians and other previously termed ‘minority’ communities have obviously improved since South Africa ushered in a new regime in 1993 but they have a lot to catch up and a long, long way to go. For instance, in the field of higher education, blacks have one of the lowest participation ratios in proportion to their population. This difference greatly increases when it comes to post graduate studies. More white and Indian students continue to study post-graduation while most black students and coloured drop out. 

A gated estate in Pretoria 
These low numbers can largely be attributed to the legacy of apartheid. Most middle class or low income black and colored households are single parent units which require additional income as the family grows. This increases the burden upon students to be employed as soon as they complete their high basic academic degree. Thus, most students from these two races do not participate in higher education despite the numerous scholarship schemes that are instituted by different universities.
 
The students from both white and Indian household do not face this problem. While the situation of the whites can be understood, as being the ‘privileged’ race, the situation of the Indians stem from strong family values where single parent family unit is hard to find. Thus, Indians while being previously disadvantaged from the Apartheid regime have actually done far better for themselves than blacks or coloured. Indians mostly dominate the service industry in South Africa. In fact, they are far better represented in higher education and service sectors than either blacks or coloured.
 
However, there is still hope. Young, black educated youth is joining political parties in a big way. Young politicians from these previously disadvantaged communities are trying hard to convince blacks and other communities to take up education by and large. There is still a long way to go but the beginning has been made.

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The writer is a journalist and owner of thesolitaryreflections.blogspot.com 
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