- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 30, 2001

HARTBEESPOORT, South Africa — David Mokhara, a newly elected black town council member, gazes from the municipal building at the racial layers of the new South Africa.

Below lie the huge houses and tree-lined roads of Kosmos, a wealthy, nearly all-white neighborhood near a yacht club and a golf resort.

Just outside the gates of Kosmos sits a dusty patchwork of tin shacks built by black squatters.

"You see two nations in one area," Mr. Mokhara said with a sigh. "You ask yourself: How is it possible for people to live this kind of life when others don't have any bread in their houses?"

It's a divide he confronts constantly as part of the first generation of South African leaders representing the interests of both whites and blacks.

When he calls a meeting to discuss the killing of white farmers across the country, no blacks come. When he holds a meeting on obtaining low-cost housing in Hartbeespoort, no whites come.

In the seven years since the fall of the racist, white apartheid regime, South Africa has undergone an incredible transformation. Blacks govern the country and some are key business leaders. Overt incidents of racism against blacks have decreased markedly and racial slurs have lost favor in much of the country.

Yet as South Africa prepares to play host to the World Conference Against Racism beginning tomorrow, it remains a nation deeply stratified by skin color.

Most blacks, who make up 78 percent of the country's 44 million people, remain trapped in crushing poverty. Public education in some black areas is far inferior to that in wealthier white regions. In many rural areas, blacks remain the victims of sometimes violent prejudice.

An avalanche of studies has decried racism in the military, in the media, in the health care system, and even in the courts, where many whites retained civil service jobs as part of the compromises that ended apartheid.

"The issue of race is going to be the major defining issue for this country," said Barney Pityana, head of the South African Human Rights Commission.

In the quiet lakeside town of Hartbeespoort, weekend visitors from nearby Johannesburg and Pretoria stroll through the farmers market and African craft stalls. They relax at the town's quaint inns, hike its parks and sail on its lake.

The language of the town, which encompasses Kosmos, is Afrikaans, the language spoken by the Afrikaner descendants of Dutch settlers. The local government was long dominated by conservative whites.

That government is gone. The mainly white town was merged last year with a mix of nearby farming districts and black urban areas during nationwide redistricting aimed at removing apartheid-era town boundaries.

Mr. Mokhara, a member of the ruling African National Congress, was elected council member for the ward that includes Kosmos, winning on the votes of black live-in maids, people in the nearby squatter camp and black farmworkers in the area.

The whites of Kosmos, nevertheless, have accepted their new council member, and Mr. Mokhara has reached out to them as well, putting several on his ward committee.

"By all accounts, this is an excellent guy. He is doing a good job and is a very worthy counselor," said Cherry Grobler, former head of the Kosmos Ratepayers and Residents Association.

But Mr. Mokhara worries at the divisions he sees among his constituents.

"I want to send a message that they must work together or starve together," he said.

Mr. Mokhara is concerned poor blacks don't have a local cemetery or affordable housing anywhere in town. He receives about five calls a day from black farmworkers claiming they have been unfairly fired and evicted from their houses on their white employers' land, he said.

"South Africa is a beautiful country, but when you look deeper, there are serious problems," he said.

It would be nearly impossible to overstate the social destruction caused by apartheid, the oppressive web of racist laws adopted by the newly elected Afrikaner government in 1948.

Every South African was classified as white, black, Indian or mixed race. Laws outlawed interracial sexual relations, denied blacks the vote and forced "non-Europeans" to use separate public facilities.

Far more invidious laws forced blacks out of the economically vibrant cities and fertile rural areas and into tribal "homelands," desolate regions ruled by puppet black governments.

Blacks working in white areas had to carry passes proving their employment and were forced to live in townships built close enough to white areas for them to commute to work — but not too close.

Many families were split when men received passes to work, because wives and children were forced to stay behind in the homelands.

The government also created an inferior education system for black children.

"One of the most powerful legacies of apartheid is that race became the bearer of opportunity and resources," said Deborah Posel, director of the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

Apartheid ended with South Africa's first all-race elections that propelled African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela into the presidency in 1994, but racial issues continue to suffuse nearly every aspect of life.

In politics, the vast majority of whites vote for the opposition Democratic Alliance, a coalition of the National Party, which created apartheid, and the Democratic Party, a group of white liberals who opposed it.

In economics, 65 percent of nonwhites live in poverty. The average annual income for whites is $6,300. For blacks, it is $950. There are white labor unions and black ones. The white chamber of commerce and the black chamber of commerce only recently announced a merger.

In education, government reports say well-financed traditionally white schools exclude most black students by charging high fees and teaching only in Afrikaans. Poorer black schools struggle for resources, and the cash-short national government can't do much to help.

Just outside Hartbeespoort, two public schools border the same rural road, separated by just a few miles and the invisible barricade between the mostly white privileged class and the black poor.

The crowded Toni Scott school has no electricity, heat or plumbing. The white paint on classroom walls is chipped and splotched with brown stains from the leaky roof. The small windows let in so little light that class is canceled on rainy days because it's too dark for the students to read.

"We can't buy teaching aids. We don't have stationery, pencils, books, crayons," said Rosina Tshephe, the principal. "Our students won't go very far."

All 99 students, ages 7 to 15, are the children of black farmworkers. Half their families, who may make as little as $30 a month, can't pay the $2.50 annual school fee.

Down the road, students of the same age attend the Skeerpoort Laerskool, a compound of neat, red brick buildings. It has electricity, running water, a large assembly hall and a lighted sports field, paid for by the school's $23 monthly fee as well as donations and the proceeds from regular fund-raisers.

Once reserved for whites, the school now is about 20 percent black. On a recent day, a multiracial group of children mixed easily as they set up a cricket field for gym class.

"We are educators and we want all of them to have the same education as our white children," said teacher Petra Alberts. "We don't see color. We see a child."

Miss Tshephe is envious of what the whites can do for their children.

"But the black parents are unable, because they are getting change. The money they are getting is not enough to raise their kids," she said.

In a speech to a national racism conference last year, President Thabo Mbeki decried South Africa's racial inequalities.

"The social and economic structure of our society is such that the distribution of wealth, income, poverty, disease, land, skills, occupations, intellectual resources, opportunities for personal advancement, as well as the patterns of human settlement, are determined by the criteria of race and color," he said.

Despite the problems, people of both races in Hartbeespoort say the town has come a long way.

Nora Chauke relaxed in a patch of sun on the sidewalk on a chilly winter morning, something that would have invited a beating for the 27-year-old black woman during apartheid, she said.

"White people could kick you, spit on you and call you 'kaffir' and you couldn't do anything," Miss Chauke said, using a racial slur for blacks.

But few yell slurs now, and most whites in town appear truly friendly, she said.

Miss Chauke's life has improved in other ways.

When she lost her $55-a-month job working as a maid a few years ago, she opened a fruit stand. Now she works far fewer hours and makes about $150 a month.

"Things are moving slowly, but at least there is hope that we can see where we are going," she said.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide