Racial Equality in South Africa: A Never Ending Dream

The road to racial equality in South Africa has been a treacherous path when compared to other economies. Racial inequality has been entrenched into society since colonialism first stepped foot in the region when the Dutch were in search for a place to replenish their supplies en route to Asia for trade.

Following the flourishing of trade and mercantilism, slavery was formed, both within the region and slave trade from the region to other countries. As the National Party took hold of the government in 1948, led by the country’s white minority government, laws were established which segregated people based on their race: White, African, Coloured (Mixed), and Indian, known as the era of “Apartheid”, meaning ‘the state of separation’ or ‘apartness’ in Afrikaans. An apparent example would be the Population Registration Act, passed in 1950 which coerced citizens to be registered under their race, sowing the seeds for racial classification, and was further exacerbated by acts such as the Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act, which forced residency of white and black citizens into separate areas, and more land was reserved for those in power rather than the majority black indigenous people.

During the epoch, discrimination against black people was rampant: non-whites had to carry passes with them in restricted areas, laws were passed to prevent interaction between races, usage of social facilities were strictly in favour of the elites and separate education systems were constructed. As a result, most of the movement and social mobility of the locals were severely inhibited.

Following a report from the Commission for Employment Equity in 2017, although White Africans make up only less than 9% of the total population, they hold 67% of the top management positions, compared to Black Africans who stand at 80.90% of the population but only holding 14.3% of the positions stated above. According to a report from the Journal of African Economics, black South Africans are 38 times more likely to be in poverty when compared to their white counterparts.

Racial inequality, eventually leading to racism, is also systemic within the country. As seen in the case of Penny Sparrow, a 70 year old real estate agent who compared black people using Durban’s beach to monkeys in 2016, despite being fined and sentenced to prison, shows that overt racism is still prevalent within the society. According to a 2019 report from the Institutional Reconciliation and Transformation Commission (IRTC) of the University of Cape Town, there has been worrying signs showing “systematic suppression of black excellence in recent years”, with better qualified black employees were being declined of positions in favour of white academics.

However, is this a one way injustice where only black communities have been discriminated against? Obviously not. A significant portion of coloured and white individuals have also lodged reports of discrimination, as seen in the case of Glen Snyman, an individual of mixed race, who had been accused of fraud for claiming he was ‘African’ when applying for the post of a principal at a primary school. There has also been increasing dissatisfaction from less educated, impoverished minority whites against the existing government of marginalizing them. 

How do we break the cycle then? For those who were born into a wealthy family, it is undoubtedly clear that they would be provided with a better education at the outset, obtaining better job opportunities and continue living the legacy of their forefathers. But this is not self-made, but rather, a privilege given. For the middle-class, being groomed and educated well allows them to have the right mind set to transcend the norm and jump out of their echelon sooner. For those who come from a disadvantaged background, the path might seem more perilous, but the vicious cycle will never end if they continue to dwell in the past. Externally, authorities and governments should acknowledge the chasm between both sides and take pragmatic steps to solve this issue of divisiveness. Just as Wayne Gerard Trotman once said: “As long as there is racial privilege, racism will never end”. 

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