Monday, May 4th, 2009...8:44 pm

Post-Apartheid South Africa

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I took a cultural anthropology class this semester and one of our ethnographic readings had to do with the status of South Africa after the official ending of apartheid. This article shed light on a new type of apartheid: the one between the rich and the poor. I pasted the summary and analysis that I wrote of it because I believe that it is extremely relevant to the theme observed in July’s People. Nadine Gordimer aims to explain that even though July and the Smales have a different skin color, they are both equally African and equally human. There is a form of an inspiring unification visible here and it is mirrored in the real Post-Apartheid politics that exist today. This unification and disregard for difference arises from tragedy.

We Are The Poors

Community Struggles in Post-Apartheid

South Africa

In its denotative state, apartheid is defined as a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on the grounds of race. Apartheid for South Africa, however, epitomizes a time spanning from 1948 through 1994 dominated by an oppressive white regime. People were classified into various ethnic groups until negotiations for the policy’s ending were successful under the African National Congress under Nelson Mandela. Such is the history often portrayed in the media and the information that people are able to lay at peace with. However, the questions of what happens afterwards or whether the vestiges of Apartheid remain are never really posed in the current era.

Ashwin Desai is able to shed light on these questions and create awareness on the fact that South African citizens are now fighting a different type of demon arising from an unlikely source and are still dealing with various human rights abuses. Before the official ending of apartheid, individuals put their loyalty into the ANC through brave and organized revolts against the movement. Many paid the price of blood, sweat, and tears believing with blind faith the promise that the ANC will bring a future of freedom. Ironically, the efforts of these people resulted in a paradoxical victory with the ANC now carrying out a program of big capital that is as if not more oppressive as Apartheid.

People have become prisoners as the ANC has imposed its own structural adjustment program on South Africa. Taxes on the rich were cut, the exchange control dropped, and tariffs that protected unionized South African workers from imports from sweat shops were abandoned. As a result, around a hundred thousand jobs were lost each year with 1 million alone in 2001. The economic gap between the rich and poor grew larger and larger. People who weren’t able to pay lost basic necessities such as water, housing, electricity, and healthcare at the hands of the South African government. People lacked access to HIV medication and the preventative drugs for children were also inaccessible.

This irony is also visible in the harsh dictatorship of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. First hailed as a hero for his leadership in the Zimbabwe African National Union against white supremacy rule, Mugabe now epitomizes human rights abuse. He is responsible for hyper inflating and leading the economy of his country into a downward spiral while actively repressing citizens.

Another ironic twist to this situation is that this tough market fundamentalism served to unite individuals of different races (victims of Apartheid) into a collective community force that actively vouches for the basic rights that they deserve as human beings. Though primarily focusing his research on the struggles of the Indian-dominant Chatsworth, Desai presents these struggles as a microcosm of a unified revolt with communities coming together in a liminal moment: the Durban Social Forum. The community movements from various oppressed areas are basically the force of the new South African revolution, with citizens standing their ground against the instrument of free-market economics that they have themselves elected (ANC). Through the experiences of Professor Fatima Meer, Desai highlights the strength, courage, and hidden leadership of these oppressed people. There is no distinction between black or Indian but all identify themselves as a community of poors and members of one common race. These community members have now actively resisted against the actions of the ANC by making themselves aware. The majority of individuals are now equipped with the skills to rewire electricity that has been disconnected as they realize that simple protest is not enough. This mirrors the NYC homeless discussed in class as these individuals, deprived of the most basic necessity (home), actively took part in a housing takeover.

Desai clearly teaches a lesson and makes readers rethink their view of South Africa as they begin to understand the perpetual struggles that citizens face post-Apartheid, a time that many believe is characterized by peace and relief.

Critical Questions: 1) Can tragedy be healing and unifying? 2) What is the true definition of human rights in terms of what every individual deserves to have in a lifetime? 3) Does the knowledge of post-Apartheid struggles make individuals obligated to make a difference?

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