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Racism alive in South Africa

The BBC's Mohammed Allie in Cape Town looks at whether racism is still thriving in South Africa, 14 years after the end of apartheid, as President Thabo Mbeki suggested in a speech to mark Freedom Day.

Earlier this month, the owner of a South African tourist resort refused to allow a film crew to shoot on his property because of a "whites only" policy.

Voters at a queue in 1994 elections
Black and white voted together in historic elections in 1994

This came shortly after a racist video made by students at the Free State University and the alleged killing of four black people in an informal settlement by an 18 year old white man.

All of this seems to show that racism is still alive and well in South Africa.

Albertus Pretorious, who owns the Broedestroom Vakansie-Oord resort in North West Province, stood by his whites-only admission policy.

His action comes despite being fined R10 000 ($1,500) and ordered to change his policy three years ago by the Human Rights Commission.

He was fined then for evicting a white family who had brought two black children along with them to the resort.

The producers of Mr Bones 2, a sequel to South Africa's highest grossing movie, have since decided to move the location of their film shoot away from the venue, because of the owner's unrepentant attitude.

Mr Pretorious was defiant when a local newspaper enquired whether the whites-only policy was still in operation.

"Yes, it is," he answered, "I don't allow black people onto my property. I don't trust them and it's my own property, so I can decide myself who I allow."

Truth but not much reconciliation

When South Africa held its first democratic elections in 1994 to officially mark the passing of the Apartheid era, many felt it also spelt the beginning of the end of discrimination in a country where classification by skin colour was still crucial to determining an individual's future.

Jody Kollapen, Chairperson of the South African Human Rights Commission, describes South Africa's transition to democracy as "amazing" but says the reconciliation part of the process was emphasised at the expense of transformation.

White denial is the real problem
Christi van der Westhuizen, author

Kollapen believes while the Truth and Reconciliation Commission exposed the excesses of Apartheid, very little was asked of whites during the reconciliation and transformation processes.

Christi van der Westhuizen, author of "White Power and the Rise and Fall of the National Party," agrees that a refusal by whites to acknowledge the impact of Apartheid on black South Africans is largely responsible for the current racial tensions.

"White denial is for me the real problem because they refuse to acknowledge the effect of Apartheid and colonialism in denying black people opportunities," she says.

"Whites should look at how to use their resources and skills so they can address the imbalances of the past."

Van der Westhuizen says government policies like affirmative action and black economic empowerment (BEE), which she believes are necessary to redress the years of oppression of blacks, have further hardened white attitudes.

"You must bear in mind that white identity post-1994 has also taken on some notion of victimhood, because they feel they suffer under BEE and affirmative action.

Johannesburg schoolchildren
Racial harmony is still a long way off

"There is a definite resentment among some members of the white community about having lost power. The Free State video and the shooting incident are just extreme manifestations of a continuing problem in our country," says van der Westhuizen.

Khanya Gwaza, a black first year student at the University of Cape Town believes racism is not a problem at the institution.

"We get along perfectly across the racial lines," he says, "one of my best mates is a white person so we do not really see colour as an issue."

But Simeon Linstein, a second year student, says he sees incidents of racism almost every day.

"I know for example that some white students mock black lecturers for their accent - they presume everyone should speak the way they do."

The apparent recent increase of incidents of racism is of huge concern to the Rainbow Nation.

But given that racial discrimination started in South Africa with the arrival of the first Dutch settlers in 1652, it is unrealistic to expect it to disappear just 14 years into the new democratic dawn.




SEE ALSO
Country profile: South Africa
29 Feb 08 |  Country profiles

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