Zuma and the Impoverished Afrikaners
April 19, 2008, 3:07 pm
Filed under: Africa, Poverty | Tags: , , , ,

The official end of Apartheid in 1994 brought revolutionary change to South Africa. Revolutionary in the sense that for the first time in the country’s history, the black majority had the power that they rightly deserved. What was not revolutionary was that the African National Congress-ANC adopted economic policies that went against the Freedom Charter, the document that guided the ANC since it was adopted in Kliptown, on 26 June 1955. In sum, over the years, the ANC has regretfully gone away from some of the socialist principles on which it was founded.

The end of Apartheid ended the Afrikaner monopoly on power…but it also introduced the country’s whites to something they had previously not known, poverty.  Ever since Nelson Mandela was succeeded by Thabo Mbeki in 1999, the countries white minority have complained that they have been abandoned by the state. The ANC’s black empowerment strategy has left many whites complaining that discrimination has one again come in South Africa, although this time, aimed at whites.

The government rightfully acknowledges these problems and points out that poverty is not a white phenomenon. This, 14 years after the end of Apartheid, millions of black South Africans still live in townships. The black empowerment strategy is aimed, the government asserts, not at discriminating, but by reversing the historical process that alienated black South Africans for decades.

Below is an Associated Press article discussing ANC leader Jacob Zuma’s recent visit with poor white South Africans living on the margins of this multi ethnic society.

It’s not unusual for the leader of South Africa’s dominant political party to meet with needy countrymen. But on Friday, the poor shaking hands with the African National Congress’ new populist president were white.

Jacob Zuma is looking more and more like a presidential candidate as he reaches out to communities across this multiracial nation.

“It is important that in South Africa a leader should know all the country’s problems,” he said during his visit to Bethlehem, a collection of wooden shacks on the outskirts of the capital that is home to about 30 whites.

Bethlehem has no electricity, running water or sewer service, and the people there eke out a meager living by selling vegetables they grow near their shacks.

Such squalor was common for blacks under apartheid, and the vast majority of South African blacks still struggle to get by. But, while it is rarely discussed, white poverty is not new — Zuma told the Bethlehem residents he knew poor whites growing up in a working-class family in Durban.

About 9 percent of South Africa’s 48 million people are white. Solidarity, a union whose base is among white workers, estimates about 13 percent of working-class whites — some 247,000 people — earn less than 1,600 rand (about $200) a month.

Zuma has struck up an alliance with the union, sitting down to dinner and singing folk songs with its leadership earlier this year in Johannesburg. The union hosted his tour of Bethlehem.

“The problem of white poverty is a silent problem,” Flip Buys, general secretary of Solidarity, said during Zuma’s visit.

“These kinds of informal settlements are dispersed around the city, around the country, but it’s not politically correct to talk about white poverty. We must break the silence, because poverty knows no color.”

Bethlehem residents prepared a traditional Afrikaner stew for Zuma, simmering meat and potatoes in a three-legged pot over a fire. They served it with the stiff cornmeal porridge that is a staple for black and white South Africans.

Jackie Nel, a 53-year-old former government clerk who has been living in the settlement for a year, said there isn’t any difference between black and white poverty.

“The whole of South Africa is struggling. The prices of food, petrol, kerosene are too high. Can’t they (government officials) bring them down a little?” Nel said.

Since white rule ended in 1994, the ANC-led government has launched programs to build houses, schools and hospitals and create jobs for the long-neglected black majority.

Susie van Niekerk, a 73-year-old retired nurse who uses a wheelchair and has been living in Bethlehem since September, said she sometimes feels the plight of whites is ignored. But, she said, the government needs to do more “not only for white people, but for black people, too.”

Zuma pledged to bring Bethlehem’s lack of services to the attention of Pretoria’s municipal authorities.

The 65-year-old former guerrilla defeated President Thabo Mbeki in a bitter battle for the ANC’s leadership post at a party conference in December, after surviving a then-pending corruption case and a rape trial in 2006.

A week after taking over the ANC, he was charged with corruption, money laundering, fraud and racketeering in relation to an alleged multimillion-dollar arms deal scandal. He is to stand trial in August. A corruption conviction would make it impossible for him to run for president, but it is not clear whether his trial could be completed before elections due in 2009.

The ANC president is traditionally the party’s nominee for the top national office, and the ANC’s dominance virtually ensures victory for its candidate. Zuma has been increasing his visibility in recent months, addressing everyone from old allies in trade unions to Jewish groups.

His warm, populist style has won him support among poor South Africans who feel left out of the economic boom during Mbeki’s presidency — though Zuma has pledged to make no major changes in his rival’s market-oriented approach.


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[…] segment, talks about Robert Mugabe and his own political future. I previously wrote about Zuma (here), who has aimed to reach out to South Africa’s white minority, many of whom have lost their […]

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