13 November 2001

South Africa: Old Wine, New Skin


FOR people like Mrs. Nomhle Nhlapo, the new South Africa smells very much like the old. She thinks that in spite of the hype about The New South Africa, racism is alive and well.

She applied to Glenvista High School for a place for her niece last September and was asked to provide the school with a title deed to show that she was a resident of Liefde-en-Vrede, a newly-established suburb in the south of Johannesburg. Mrs. Nhlapo submitted the deed. but her application was still rejected. Convinced that the rejection of her application 'smacked of racism', she went to see the principal of Glenvista High, Mr. Marius Robinson. 'The principal told me that the application was rejected because Lindiwe is not my biological child and that my house is not completed.' She still does not understand why her guardianship, not to mention the state of a house still under construction, should be grounds for denying her niece a school place.

But she is not alone in accusing Glenvista High of racism. Mrs. Nokuzola Sithole also did apply to the same school for a place for her 13-year-old daughter. Like Mrs. Nhlapo, her application was rejected, even after providing evidence that she was a resident of Liefde-en-Vrede. Ms. Busi Radebe of Glenvista Extension Four has a similar story to tell.

To date, they have all lodged formal complaints to the Department of Education. Spokesperson for the Department in the Gauteng area, Lebelo Maloka, admitted that they have received complaints from black parents and guardians whose children and wards have been denied places at the school.

For Alnet Rapholo, 32, a security guard at Federal Garden Security in Pretoria, the problem of the new South Africa smelling very much like the old has nothing to do with school places. It has to do with the colour of his skin.

Two weeks ago, he was assaulted by a group of six white men who called him a 'kaffir'. He sustained a fractured arm and bruises to his legs and body.

He said the men set upon him with an iron bar and kicks as we walked home.

He managed to escape and sought refuge at a nearby house that belonged to a white colleague he worked for. But he was ordered off the property. With the six men still on his tail, he run into a police station. 'I went in there to seek help and to lay a charge of assault, but I ended up being locked up for six hours. I was only taken to hospital at 3 a.m. on Monday,' said Rapholo. Inspector Anton Breedt of Pretoria Police confirmed that his officers are investigating a case of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm. No arrests have been made yet.

Racially motivated assaults and murders have become a part of the South African experience. It is not uncommon for white ruffians to beat up or kill black people. Nor is it uncommon for black people to kill white farmers living in isolated farms in the hinterlands of South Africa. Some people see this kind of violence as the inevitable effects of the suspicion and hatred that institutionalised racism and racial discrimination has created in a country.anxious to bury the past.

But the past isn't going away that easily. And Standard Tshabalala, a black South African who calls himself a child of The Struggle is quick to admit that. He says it will take more than a new flag and black and white co-presenters on SABC-TV to 'whitewash the reality of racism in this country. No matter what people tell you, people here still live separate lives and distrust each other. When a black family moves into an area which whites consider to be a white area, the whites move out. What does that mean? I know that TV producers want to show as many multi-racial relationships and marriages on television as they can. But TV is TV. Real life is real life.' And in real life 'Green and gold (the colours of the Springboks, the national rugby team) still looks like black and white' or so the Sunday Times reports in an article in the paper's series on the changing South Africa on 28 October. The article highlights the experiences of Kaya Malotana, the second black South African to play for the Springboks in a Test match. When he was selected to play for South Africa in the 1999 World Cup, local journalists dismissed his selection as window-dressing an act to show that rugby wasn't an all-white game after all. Malotana said that racism in rugby was less about name-calling and more about exclusion.

'I remember when I made the Craven Week team and we played a friendly game and were told afterwards the starting line-up from that game would be the same in the main tournament.' But when the time for the main tournament came, he was dropped on the bench. The fact that his team mates didn't interact with him even when they were travelling on the same bus worsened his sense of isolation.

Today, even after having recovered from a rugby injury he sustained last year, the system in the form of the South African Rugby Football Union (SARFU) is unwilling to welcome him back. Meanwhile, fellow Springbok, Andre Snyman, who was also injured last year, has been grafted back into the team, after six months on the side lines. 'Interestingly enough, in a meeting we had with SARFU recently, they admitted that we (Malotana, Owen Nkumane and Mac Masina) had been cast out and that they now realise that rugby is a career to us as well. They said they know we were used as pawns in that era and that although they were not promising we'd be Boks again, they would provide us with the systems to get back to where we were.'

In spite of all this, South Africa has its attractions for many people outside the country. People who feel that these are small prices to pay for a financially better life. Over the years, thousands of Zimbabweans, for example, have been trickling into South Africa from Tsholotsho, a rural town 120 kilometres northwest of Bulawayo.

Many of these Zimbabweans are taking up menial jobs that black South Africans don't want. Most of them made their homes in Zandspruit, a sprawling township of over 50,000 inhabitants about 30 kilometres west of Johannesburg.

In Zandspruit is above 90 per cent and South Africans have to compete with immigrants for jobs. Last week, the situation erupted into violence. Angry South Africans destroyed over a 100 shacks belonging to Zimbabweans and looted 124 others. Ironically, some Mozambicans joined the South Africans in the attacks on the Zimbabweans. Apparently, they have a longer history in the city and are better integrated into the community than Zimbabweans.

Like the South Africans, the Mozambicans are undercutting them for menial jobs, their only means of survival in a city which takes no prisoners.

Police have since arrested 20 people and charged them with offences ranging from pubic violence and assault to arson and malicious damage to property.

Local leaders, reports Sechaba Kaínkosi of the Sunday Times, are unrepentant. They have made it very clear that they want the Zimbabweans out of Zandspruit and if possible out of South Africa.

Some of the Zimbabweans want to take their chances and remain in South Africa. Others, like Peter Ndhlovu and his two brothers, want to go back home. 'Even though things are worse back home, there is no point staying in a country where you feel you are not welcome,' he said.

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