South Africa’s Off the Radar Social Issue

Nelson Mandela’s health has once again made main news around the world during the past few weeks. All news concerning Madiba’s health, however, is conspicuously accompanied by campaigns encouraging people to remain calm and not to worry. In “Nelson Mandela is 94, is frail and his eventual loss will be profound” (April 13, 2013), Angela Mollard dwells on Mandela’s achievements for the black South African community. There is strong concern for how South Africa will face its struggle when Madiba is no longer accompanying black South Africans on their Long Walk to Freedom. However, what are the struggles that may prove highly challenging in South Africa’s potentially Mandela-less future? A highly off the radar issue is the growing problem of the poor white South African community.

During the regime of Apartheid, the National Party supported poor whites with state and semi-state sectors, providing them with jobs and housing. When the apartheid regime ended, certain whites ‘lost out’ as they lacked the social orientation, education and skills that had become essential in the changing landscape of the new South Africa. Not being able to compete with those who were better educated and/or beneficiaries of affirmative action policies, they were rendered to the status of ‘white trash’ and ‘glorified beggars’. Sex and ‘car watching’ are two examples of key sources of income in the growing poor white community. Of the total white South African population of 4.5 million, 10 % are “too poor to live in traditional white areas” and 90 000 “are in a survival struggle”.¹ In reaction many in these two categories are clinging to three potentially explosive attitudes: religion, xenophobia and racism.² Moreover, they are blaming the new order, feeling it is ‘out to get them’. Reports show this may have a trace of truth as no reliable quantitative data has been compiled regarding the issue, hiding the extent of the problem.³

The issue is of course massively complicated by the fact that even a slight return to the days of Apartheid needs to be avoided at all cost. Never again should a man as Mr Malan come to power with a slogan as “the white man must remain master”. However, a country where a segment of society is becoming increasingly trapped in marginalization and socio-economic segregation cannot be heading towards a stable future. Even more so as an often found empowering remedy to marginalization and segregation is racism.

Also for those who are interested: Have a listen to Die Antwoord, a hip hop duo who both artistically embrace and expresses the fate of the ‘poor white South African.’

1. Lawrence Schlemmer, director of the Helen Suzman Foundation
2. Vicki Robinson. (2004). “South Africa: Poor whites are strangers in a new land”. Mail and Guardian of South Africa.
3. Solidarity Helping Hand. (2008). “White Poverty in South Africa with an emphasis on the Tshwane Metropolitan Area”.

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