In an interview with Time, Kenny Tokwe, a community organizer who has been living in Imizamo Yethu for nearly 30 years, says, “South Africa is still a country of two nations: the rich whites”—he points down the hill, “and the poor blacks.”
Despite leaving a legacy of reconciliation and forgiveness, being celebrated for his courageous fight against apartheid, many South Africans have begun questioning whether Nelson Mandela did enough for the emancipation of the black South African.
“There’s a growing sense of anti-Mandela,” says Eugene Dhlamini, a 29-year-old from Soweto. “As our generation studies history we are making up our own minds about the decisions he made.”
The cover story for the issue of Time magazine on 13 May highlights how South Africa is the most unequal country in the world today. The cover image which is from work that was carried out with drones by photographer Johnny Miller shows two neighbourhoods outside of Johannesburg, with wealthy Primrose on the left and the informal settlement of Makause on the right.
About the project, Miller says, “Unequal Scenes’ started in 2016 in Cape Town. I had studied the post-apartheid city (coursework at the University of Cape Town) during my master’s studies and was interested in how a drone could see the divides in the city a new way. South Africa was so ruthlessly and effectively segregated during apartheid, I just had an idea that by seeing it from the air it would help make that hit home. That the architecture itself is a dividing factor.”
It is now 25 years since South Africa removed its apartheid shackles yet the country seems not to have fully turned the corner when it comes to its racial divide and inequality. The World Bank last year deemed South Africa the world’s most unequal society, estimating that the top 10% owned 70% of the nation’s assets in 2015. And the split is still largely along racial lines; the bottom 60%, largely comprising blacks—which, includes mixed-race people and Asians descended from an era of slavery and colonial rule—controls a meagre 7% of the country’s net wealth. Half the population lives on less than $5 a day.
The white minority, which makes up only 9% of the population, still lives off the benefits accumulated under apartheid’s unequal policies. Their wealth relatively shields them from the failures of government policy in the past two decades. The heat is felt in the marginalized black communities battling the demons of unemployment and the webs of generational poverty.
“Democracy gave us nothing,” complains Wendy Gqirana, a 36-year-old unemployed chef who has spent her entire life sharing a shipping container with her extended family in the Cape Town township of Langa. “They told us in ’94 that the blacks would be in control and things would be better. All we see now is corruption among the black leaders, and whites are still in control of the economy.”
Issues of white monopolistic capital have also been at the core of the political debate in South Africa. The Economic Freedom Fighters, EFF, an off-shoot of the African National Congress (ANC) has been gaining popularity in the past few years due to its strong left-wing message that is centred on addressing the country’s inequality. In its manifesto for the upcoming elections, the firebrand party has vowed to nationalise mines, banks, and “other strategic sectors” of the economy, all without compensation and, for some unknown reason, game reserves. It would renationalise Sasol and Iscor and increase the State’s stake in Telkom to 60%.
The country faces not only economical charges to deal with. The problem runs deep, it is a psychological disease that it ought to deal with, the inferiority complex that runs deep within the DNA of its black population and the superiority complex of the white minority. It goes beyond simple political and policy issues.
Time interviewed President Cyril Ramaphosa about the challenges, during which he explained the historical marginalisation of black South Africans, from access to education and jobs, aggravated by spatial planning, which meant living long distances from work opportunities.
Header Image Credit: Time Magazine