This year's elections in South Africa proved similar to those of five years ago. The ANC this past June captured every province except the Western Cape, long considered one of the wealthiest and most-developed areas in all of South Africa, if not the entire African continent. Here, the New National Party and the Democratic Party, which both received less votes than the ANC, have formed a coalition, bitterly contested by the ANC, to share their seats and therefore gain a majority of the political power, while the ANC remains with minimal influence and now, a minority of seats. Trade unions and one teachers' union have already promised to begin striking unless the ANC receives more concessions. On Wednesday, June 16th, Thabo Mbeki, Nelson Mandela's ANC successor to the presidency, celebrates his inauguration in Pretoria and begins the struggle to lead the new South Africa as it confronts its major problems: violence, wealth distribution, and politics.
In the last five years, South Africa has seen a large increase in violent crime. When I told Candice that Kevin's backpack disappeared at the Harare, Zimbabwe bus terminal last week, she said, yes, "Johannesburg and Harare: you must be very careful." As an example, here in South Africa, her car radio has been stolen twice, her house has been robbed twice, and multiple thefts and pilfering have occurred to her and her friends, all since 1994. Candice says it's not unusual for people to be robbed at gunpoint. In South Africa, according to some figures, a murder or attempted murder takes place every 12 minutes. Many people carry their own weapons. Anti-theft devices for cars and anti-intruder gates and locks for houses are among the most essential items for homeowners. BMW's right now are the most highly stolen vehicle, and so, on television, BMW is advertising a "flame-thrower" type device where one can press a button and incinerate any threatening people outside of the car.
Money, too, has played a part in the shakiness as the new South Africa rises to its feet. In the early 80's when the beneficiaries of apartheid had a hold on worldwide gold prices and only a few benefited from the economy, one rand bought 70 US cents. Now, when many more millions of people compete for limited jobs and salaries, 70 US cents will buy 4.2 rands. The devaluation has caused many young, educated, predominantly white South Africans to look for work in the UK, Australia, and the United States to earn hard currency.
This trend creates a "brain drain" that takes away opportunities for entrepreneurship and job creation within the country. The South Africans who stay can pay up to 50% on income taxes. "But now," explains Candice, "you can't see where those taxes are going." For instance, on the N2 highway past the airport to Somerset West, if there were potholes or broken streetlights five years ago, they would get fixed immediately. Now when you drive down the N2, streetlights that are burned out stay burned out, and holes in the road don't get repaired. I wonder what Cape Town will look like in the next 20 years: South Africa's history and culture is similar to that of its neighbor Zimbabwe, and some think that South Africa will start to look more and more like Zimbabwe. However, unlike South Africa, Zimbabwe never had apartheid and therefore, there was less of a gap between rich and poor. South Africa reached a much more-developed state than that of Zimbabwe.
The problems of violence and money form a triptych with that of politics. Because so many white, voting-age South Africans are working outside of the country, their lack of political voice influences the vote. In this past election, any South Africans who weren't physically here in the country did not have the opportunity to vote. This created some hullabaloo with the South African Cricket team, which is playing at the World Cup in England and thus would not be able to show their civic pride by voting. At the last minute, an amendment was passed that said if you had registered in the country for this year's election, you could vote absentee. Thus, the cricket team was satisfied, but thousands of expatriates working in other countries were disenfranchised. Pro-New National Party and Democratic Party billboards around Cape Town have adopted the slogan from public garbage cans: "Keep the Cape in Shape," adding their own slogan, "Five More Years!" with the hope that preventing the ANC from taking power in the Western Cape will help keep violence down and money flowing for positive works rather than into the pockets of corrupt politicians.
"It's very complicated, and I don't think it has to do with race, it has to do with culture," Candice explains. "People like to read about racism in South Africa, but it's not just the color of your skin that matters." The histories of the Afrikaners, the British, the native San and Khoikhoi, the Bantu-speaking people, the Malays, and the Coloreds in South Africa contrast markedly with each other, and all have differing claims to the land and the people.
Perhaps one insight into the difficulties here is a simple one that the new South Africa continues to struggle with: Which language shall we speak? The Xhosa spoken here existed long before white men set foot on shore. After the 1652 formation of the Dutch East India Company's route through Cape Town, the Dutch dialect of Afrikaans began to reign. With the British occupation of the Cape in 1795 onwards, English speakers also arrived. But now, in the new South Africa, there are eleven official languages: in alphabetical order, Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, SiSwati, Southern Sotho, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, Xitshinga, and Zulu. On the local radio stations you can hear a variety of programs in the different languages, and official documents are usually released in Afrikaans, English, and Xhosa here in Cape Town. But how can the country reconcile itself?
One ray of hope for the country lies in its constitution, adopted in May 1996, and known as one of the most progressive constitutions in the world. The constitution declares it unlawful to discriminate against someone on the basis of race, gender, pregnancy, ethnic or social origin, sexual orientation, disability, religion, belief, culture or language. The freedoms of religion, belief, movement, association, expression, and artistic creativity are protected. When one looks at the rainbow-colored flag, one can only hope that the future of South Africa truly is one of a "rainbow nation," where these rights will be exercised for the good of all people.
Shawn - A Tale of Two Schools
Abeja - White Woman in the Rainbow Nation
Time Machine | Multimedia and Special Guests
Home | Search | Teacher Zone | Odyssey Info