Is Post-Apartheid South Africa Racist?

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The past month or so has been an “awakening” one in South Africa, to say the least, and all of this is because of racism. Questions on whether racism should be criminalized or not have invaded the media.

Personally, this much-needed wind caught my attention, and the attention of the majority of the South Africa population, after Penny Sparrow, a 68-year-old white South African real estate agent, posted outrageous racist comments on her social media platforms.

Her comments, alongside those of Justine Van Vuuren, Chris Hart and Nicole de Klerk, as well as inhuman actions of male white students at the University of the Free State in South Africa (and many more examples) have all mad it very clear that racism is still an issue that South Africa cannot ignore.

This makes me wonder what the end of apartheid really meant for South Africa and what it means for the new generation today. Is South Africa becoming more racist?

I would like to begin by sharing a few of Penny Sparrow’s outrageous social media posts:

Post 1 (posted while Sparrow was a beach in Durban): “These monkeys that are allowed to be released on New Years Eve and New Years Day on public beaches towns etc obviously have no education what so ever and to allow them loose is inviting huge dirt and discomfort to others”

Post 2: “For now I shall address the black of South Africa as monkeys as I see the cute little wild monkeys do the same pick drop and litter”

Post 3: “Every year it is the same story; it’s their [black people] day and we don’t go in the beach, we don’t interfere, we let it be. We all know it and there is nothing wrong. We stay out-of-the-way and stay home”

Post 4: “I am sorry that it has taken such a viral turn, but it was just a statement of how it was. I made the mistake pf comparing them [black people] with monkeys. Monkeys are cute and they’re naughty, but they [black people] don’t see it that way, but I do because I love animals”

Post 5: “I wasn’t being nasty or rude or horrible, but it’s just that they [black people] make a mess. It is just how they are”

Post 6: “I put an apology up to say that I didn’t mean it personally. That day on that beach it was all black people, I’m sorry to say it, but it is a fact of life. I said it as I felt it and I know it was wrong to do it on a public setting [Facebook] like that. I don’t know how it got out and we are all saying it”

I have shared these posts in order to put what I am about to say into context: white privilege and white supremacy are still very real in post-apartheid South Africa. Like many white South Africans, Penny grew up during apartheid where she had access to “white only” spaces and where she benefited from a system that privileged her because of her race.

Moreover, like many white South Africans, Penny doesn’t believe that she is racist and attributes her comments to mere “facts”. How can people remedy a situation when they don’t even realise that there is a situation to remedy in the first place? This is the case for many white South Africans and the sad part is that it is not only those who grew up during apartheid: racist mentalities are being passed on from generation to generation.

So is South Africa becoming more racist? In my opinion, no. I strongly believe that it has always been racist. For instance, look at what Penny says in post 6 “…it was wrong to say it on a public setting…we are all saying it”. Does that “we” mean “white South Africa”? If that is the case, which it probably is, then that shows us how deeply rooted the problem really is.

I read an article which said that “the end of apartheid did not so much transform South African society but instead only transformed black rage into forgiveness towards whites”. Even though the segregation of apartheid no longer exists in the South African constitution, it is alive and well in the hearts and minds of the people.

Furthermore, it is alive and well in the country’s economic structure where white people are just 8.4% of the population but control and own over 80% of the country’s economy. The sad reality is that the social hierarchy which destroys our society puts black South Africa at the very bottom.

People say that many outbursts can be blamed of the economic imbalance, but I feel like even if white and blacks where on the same economic level they would still be this outrageous racism. Someone even said that “money makes the whites tolerate us, but it doesn’t make them hate us any less”.

It is painful to face the harsh reality of racism in post-apartheid South Africa, but it is an issue we cannot ignore. Penny Sparrow is nothing but a drop in the ocean. The issue is real and runs deeper than discriminatory social media posts.

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