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SA needs ‘radical reconciliation’ | Daily Maverick

5 December 2013

This article in the Daily Maverick says that South Africa needs radical reconciliation, because there is a correlation between race and class. SA needs ‘radical reconciliation’ | Daily Maverick:

This is very much the central theme of this year’s findings: that the gap between the rich and the poor in South Africa is seen as the biggest source of division in the country by its citizens. This in fact is not new; income disparity has been cited in this position consistently since 2003. Race is now seen as only the fourth most divisive issue: to quote the survey, “It seems that, in the perceptions of citizens, race relations are steadily improving as class relations get worse”.

But hold up, those who love to jump on class, rather than race, now being South Africa’s cause celebre. The survey’s findings also show that wealth disparity still happens overwhelmingly along racial lines. In terms of the living standards measure (LSM), there are a higher percentage of black South Africans in the lowest four LSM groups than any other race group. By contrast, fully 73,3% of white South Africans fall within the two highest LSM groups. The IJR spells it out clearly: “Material inequality is the biggest obstacle to national reconciliation, but the majority of the materially excluded are black South Africans”.

but it goes on to say:

To quote the survey: “White South Africans feel the least disempowered in the face of big business and the most disempowered in the face of local government. Conversely, black South Africans feel the most empowered in the face of local government, and the least empowered in the face of capital”.

I am reminded, once again, of an English friend who said, in the 1960s, “When South Africa has sorted out the problem of the blacks and the whites, it will only then come to face the real issue: the haves and the have-nots.”

The article is very interesting, and the findings of the survey seem to coincide with my perceptions and observations.

But for me that puts a big question mark over the solution suggested in the heading of the article, and the question is tentatively raised in the concluding paragraph:

Wale suggested at the Barometer’s launch that some of the early impetus around the notion of “reconciliation” itself is flagging. “During 1994 and the transition, people did a lot of work around citizen awareness of reconciliation,” she said. “There’s a bit of apathy now. I think that we still need to do that work of consciousness-raising on what the past means in the present, across race groups.”

The notion of “reconciliation” has been a rather ambiguous one for a long time, going back a long time before 1994. When people pointed out that apartheid was unjust, and that we needed therefore to struggle for justice, there were always some who thought that justice was too harsh, and that we should couple it with “reconciliation”. I’ve said quite a lot about that in another post, so I won’t repeat it all here.

I think that it is probably a good thing that the early impetus given to “reconciliation” is flagging, because there has been a lot of reconciliation, and reconciliation is not necessarily what is most urgently needed.

Though there is indeed a correlation between class and race, and most of the poorest people in the country are black, trying to shift the emphasis back on to race and reconciliation, as the article in the Daily Maverick does, could lead to people looking for the wrong solutions in the wrong places. By saying it’s still a racial thing, it is all to easy to think that if some government policy or programme is designed to benefit black people, it will therefore benefit the poor, because the majority of the poor are black. But that does not necessarily work like that. Most of the BEE programmes have not been Black Economic Empowerment, but Black Elite Enrichment.

And this can be seen in some parts of the article itself.

For the last 20 years the majority of white children have enjoyed a huge privilege that the majority of black children have not — going to school with children of other races. And I suspect that this is one of the factors that has led to race dropping to fourth place as the most divisive issue, with income disparity being number 1.

This does not mean that whites don’t need to change their attitudes — the survey found  that “Almost 40% of white South Africans surveyed disagreed with the statement: The Apartheid government wrongly oppressed the majority of South Africans.”

But the majority of black children do not have the opportunity to meet children of other races at school. Twenty years after the end of apartheid, in most schools in the country, all the teachers, and all the pupils are black. And those are also the schools of the poor, in the poorest areas areas of the city, and the poorest rural areas. Those are the schools with the poorest equipment and other facilities.

Is their biggest need reconciliation?

And who or what do they need to be reconciled to?

I suspect that their biggest enemy is poverty; but poverty is not really what they need to be reconciled to.

The ANC came to power in 1994 with the slogan “the people shall govern” still fresh in the minds of the electorate.

But today in South Africa, as in the rest of the world, it is the 1% who govern.



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