Friday, September 5, 2008

Where's the Kumbaya?

South Africa is a funny country.

In many ways, it's a lot like home. We have internet, we have malls, we have movies, we have grocery stores. People speak English and don't take live chickens on the bus. Culture shock has certainly not been a problem.

Cape Town and South Africa still have a dirty little secret, though. Race relations are still a touchy subject here. I hesitate to right-out use the label "racism", but the fact remains that apartheid only officially ended in 1994. Only in 1994 were blacks allowed to vote. Only in 1998 were blacks allowed to move anywhere they wanted in Cape Town, to live as a family if one person was considered black and the other coloured, to live in and move around the city without having to carry a pass book which identified him or her as black. Up until 1998, it was even law that coloured people were to be favoured over blacks when offering employment.

Prior to 1998, blacks and coloured people (official terms used to classify different races) were segregated and forced to live in townships specifically for them. Many of these townships are still in existence, and today we did a tour of three of them - all black, all poor, all devastatingly separate from the quiet suburb we're staying in. To call some of the shelters in these townships "residences" is a laughable offense. They're shacks. They're shanties. Some of the larger buildings, originally built as male-only dormitories, have rooms in them that house three families of five where only two people should be. Twenty people share a cold-water faucet and toilet. They buy their sheep's heads to feed their families. Apparently they are delicious when grilled with the wool still on.

People of colour continue to live in these townships because it's all they've ever known and it's all they can afford. Officially, any family or person can move anywhere, but the reality is that most affluent areas are still white.

South Africa's population is 70% black, by definition, so it makes sense statistically that the people that serve us at restaurants and at gas stations, check our groceries, and clean the streets are black. But it doesn't make sense that most of the people being served in these restaurants, gas stations, and fancy grocery stores are white. At the movies it's black people behind the counter and white people in the theater seats. At the gym it's mostly white people sweating their asses off on the stationary cycles and black people wiping the equipment off when they're done.

South Africa's come a long way, but they've still got a long way to go. Like our friends the African penguins, race relations here are still very much black and white.

1 comment:

wompcat said...

that's pretty interesting, but sad. i still notice the segregation between race here too - especially when i am even further south, like in alabama...