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The legacy of apartheid and the culture of violence

4 November 2007

A common complaint among well-to-do white South Africans is that there is too much harping on the past, and blaming the legacy of apartheid for the problems of the present. Apartheid ended nearly 14 years ago, they say. Why can’t we put all that behind us, forgive and forget and move forward? Blaming the past will not solve the problems of the present.

One frequently finds this argument on South African blogs (and at least 90% of South African blogs are written by well-to-do whites). And of course at one level is true — blaming the past won’t solve the problems of the present. But if we are to solve the problems of the present we need to understand how they arose. We will solve very few problems if we fail to deal with the legacy of apartheid.

The problem is, however, that very few whites in South Africa were aware of the problems created by apartheid, and the legacy of those problems that still persists today. Many were indoctrinated at school and by the mass media to believe that apartheid was a marvellously humane system that would benefit all, and that the only people to object were communists and crypto-communist agitators.

But all too often in this world the sins of the fathers are visited on the children, even to the third and fourth generation. Here is one example:

clipped from

South Africa has one of the world’s highest levels of reported rape.
For each of the 54,000 rapes reported to the police each year, another nine are not
What can explain half a million rapes a year?
Ms Jewkes argues that the country has been “severely traumatised” by the intense violence of apartheid and the explosive pace of social change since its demise.

Added to this, “apartheid destroyed family life”.

The pass law system that put men in urban hostels and kept families fatherless in the countryside left a gigantic legacy of hurt and abuse.
The problems of sexual violence, like the problems of apartheid, will have to be solved by South Africans together.

  blog it

This does not mean that a rapist can cop out of all moral responsibility by blaming apartheid — “apartheid made me do it”. The problem is that many such people have no sense of moral responsibility in the first place. And that is the legacy of apartheid — the culture of rape and other acts of violence. In many court cases where people are found guilty of rape, murder and other acts of violence, it is reported that they “showed no remorse”.

The policy of apartheid deliberately set out to destroy family life in the name of an ideology. Generations of children grew up fatherless and often motherless as well. And, as was pointed out in studies such as Bowlby’s Child care and the growth of love, children deprived of parental love in infancy find it much more difficult to form loving relationships with other people as they grow up. And when they grow up and treat others badly, they “show no remorse”. Apartheid created several generations of children like this, and now Aids is creating several more, as the number of child-headed households grows.

Nearly 14 years after the end of apartheid, we have in some ways barely begun to tackle its legacy. During the apartheid era, one of the symbols of the time was rows and rows of toilet in the veld, where displaced people, ethically cleansed from “white” South Africa, were dumped.

But several years after the end of apartheid there were still loos in the veld in places like Dennilton, where urban housing was being built for people with no hope of employment. After the end of apartheid, sub-economic urban housing was being built in the rural village of Mooi River in KwaZulu/Natal, rows and rows of apartheid-style township matchboxes on the green hills. Why? Nothing was bring done to create jobs in the area, so the policy was being continued out of sheer inertia.

So perhaps it is time for some whites to repent, and to recognise that apartheid has in fact left a legacy and that it isn’t going to go away any time soon. Millions of people were ethnically cleansed, and are living far from places of employment, and the effects of that social engineering are still with us today. The ANC government has often been rather ineffectual about dealing with the legacy of apartheid too, and it’s unlikely to get better as time goes on. The ANC perhaps needs to repent of going with the flow rather than trying to turn the tide. But when I say “repent”, I’m not advocating a guilt trip, and saying that all whites should feel personally guilty for what was done in the name of apartheid. Some should feel guilty, no doubt, but only those who were guilty, who supported and perhaps tried to implement the policy.

Repentance does not mean feeling guilty; it means changing your mind. And in this case it means changing your mind about the facile notion that we can simply ignore the legacy of apartheid, pretend that it doesn’t exist, and build the future as if apartheid simply hadn’t happened.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. 14 July 2008 10:29 am

    Frankly, I do not see any reason to apologize for policies that were even beneficial for the country. From all the “arguments” against “Apartheid” not one did really sticks. Even Blacks, said to have been disadvantaged, did actually benefit from seperate development. Most problems did arise, because South Africa evolved into a welfarist bureaucrazy. Violence of the state was a response to violence initiated by enemies of South Africa via the SACP/ANC alliance.

  2. 14 July 2008 6:20 pm

    Well, I suppose it depends on your values. If you believe in the destruction of family values, the apartheid did a pretty good job.

  3. Jessica permalink
    6 October 2008 3:02 pm

    What has not become fair is that, although there is a legacy that has been left behind by aparthied, the younger white generation such as myself is also bearing the brunt of the situation left behind. we are still seen as supporters of the apatheid system when we did not even properly function in the system. People still classify us under the same catagory as the oppressors. We are still seen as racist no matter what.

  4. 3 July 2010 12:40 pm

    I have also addressed the legacy of apartheid and what it has done to the minds of the people – see However I did not address the issues of crime, which, indeed is a further legacy.
    The system of apartheid had many, many unjust laws. Part of the fight against apartheid was to demonstrate that the ‘rule of law’ was bankrupt. There is an old saying, “The law is an ass!”
    The consequence is that no law is observed. Just watch on the streets – almost nobody stops at stop-signs, and if they do they will get what they deserve – a smack up the rear. An orange light means “Put your foot down – on the accelerator, not the brake.” Just watch police vehicles – they break as many laws as anyone else.
    Rape? Its just another law, so it is there to be broken, isn’t it?


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