Apartheid is Dead, the Divide Lies On
Apartheid in South Africa is now legally permitted only in the separation of the smokers’ lounge from the non-smokers. But because the Mandela-de Klerk agreement that brought South Africa to peaceful, non-violent liberation did not touch the economic structure that reflected the apartheid regime, the divide between white and black remains stark. Our friend, Liepollo Pheko, a social activist who combines Arundhati Roy and Medha Patkar into one, with whom we are lunching in an African restaurant on Nelson Mandela Square in Johannesburg, tells us that South Africa has the world’s worst Gini coefficient for income and wealth—the standard measure of inequality. (We in India are rapidly heading that way). The slum townships where most black Africans live and the garden suburbs that house the affluent Whites belong to separate universes.
But what, I ask, of the newly empowered Black elite? “Coconuts,” giggles Liepollo’s 12-year-old daughter. I thought the expression applied only to upward mobile nris transforming themselves from Basavanagudi to Boston and Bhatinda to Birmingham. But, I persist, you go to an upmarket school, are there no White children there? In my school, she replies, all races study together and there are no differences. But, I follow through, do you meet outside school, visit each other’s homes, go to the same birthday parties? Apparently not. There is little or no social interaction even where schools are mixed. “So, who are the brightest ones?” Ruefully, she admits it’s the white girls.
As we leave the restaurant, I look around. My wife and I are the only non-Africans. Almost everywhere, except the Melville suburb where the non-conformist younger generation frequents the bars and dances to the juke box, it’s exceptional to see white and black at the same table. Not because of any racial prejudice; simply because the economy’s been left as it was. I wonder for how long, for Robert Mugabe has shown, a little to the north in Zimbabwe, how little it takes to overthrow the economic order.
The day we leave, the headlines are full of a court case against a lively young voice, Julius Malema of the ruling African National Congress, charged in court with money-laundering, describing President Jacob Zuma as the “illiterate leader” of “a banana republic”, adding that if there is one charge against him, there are 700 against the President. The highly respectable Cape Times quotes Malema on its front page as sneering, “He can stick the charges up his arse.” (I see a future for Malema on the Opposition benches in the Rajya Sabha!) He continues, “I am unshaken. I am not intimidated by this nonsense. Remove Zuma as President. I’ll continue with the struggle for economic freedom.” If Malema becomes President, will the Mandela-de Klerk agreement hold? Or will South Africa go down the Mugabe path?
The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg is a “must-see” (and not only because it puts to shame our pathetic efforts to commemorate our freedom struggle). Brilliantly conceived and most imaginatively executed, the museum, built claustrophobically as a prison of winding tunnels, begins with visitors walking in through gates chillingly marked ‘Whites’ and ‘Non-Whites’ on boards that were once everywhere. Exiting the narrow entrance, the entire wall in front is taken up with a life-size, black-and-white blow-up of the three inquistors—all white—seated behind a plain table to adjudge disputed claims of race. One does not know whether to cry or laugh at the adjacent panel which solemnly and without comment lists, from an answer given in Parliament by the minister concerned, the race changes authorised by the panel: so many blacks became coloureds; so many coloureds became black; so many Malays became Chinese; so many Chinese became Malays; so many Malays became Indians. “One Indian became white.” And then the punchline: “No black became white. No white became black!”
The vicious history of apartheid is traced with searing accuracy but little bitterness. Towards the end, there is a video of Hendrik Verwoerd declaring at the end of the 1961 Commonwealth conference that ended South Africa’s membership, “Goodbye. They’ve got their wishes but lost their cause. Bye.” And how right, in a sense, he was. For it took all of 33 years from then till the end of apartheid, the three worst decades of the vilest racial excesses, while Britain and the US, now so quick to impose sanctions on anyone they don’t like (prior to invading them), did absolutely nothing only because the apartheid regime let them have Simon’s Town naval base to police the Indian Ocean. I, therefore, visit Simon’s Town to get the bile out of my system.
I ask Faisal...
our Gujarat-born chauffeur in Cape Town, who has lived all his life in South Africa, what it is like to be an Indian? “Then,” he replies, “we were not white enough; now, we are not black enough!” Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.
Diplomat-turned-politician Mani Shankar Aiyar is a member of the Rajya Sabha; E-mail your diarist: manirsmp AT gmail.com
Mani Shankar Aiyar has given a good account (South Africa Diary, Oct 29) in his observations on apartheid and other things that are quite educative. His tenure as a government minister could have made a difference if he had cared to use his present ideas on apartheid on the working of the panchayati raj ministry, his pet project then.
Aayushi Pandey, Delhi
Even though the overall tone of this diary is negative, I am happy that someone of Mr Aiyar’s calibre is taking pains to analyse the social undercurrents in a society where multiple races coexist. Indeed, one has to appreciate the fact that it takes a huge amount of effort for people from all races to come together. Remember, it’s inveterate hatred we are talking about. It’ll take time.
A. Sharma, Boston
Even though the overall tone of this article sounds negative, I'm just glad that a person of the caliber of Mr Aiyar is taking the pains to analyze the social undercurrents in a society where multiple races co-exist. While it's easy to dismiss the overall picture as a failure, one has to appreciate the fact that it takes a huge amount of effort for people from all the races to come together. Remember it's thousands of years of hatred we're talking about. I'm sure it'll take time.
By contrast let's look at India where people from the same race simply refuse to live together, and the situation is already out of control. Corrupt Indian politicians have done a great job in dividing the society in every possible way -- on the bases of caste, religion, gender, region, community, sexual orientation, class -- you name it they've got it.
So how about we get our own house in order before criticizing others?
Dear mr 'big mouth' mani, what did u or ur masters 'gandhis' or for that matter ur government has done to commemorate our freedom struggle to which u r complaining about. Remember u were minister too, what were ur efforts towards this ? It seems u came into this world only to abuse and bad mouth anything and everything except your masters.
I am glad Mani Shankar Aiyer is travelling places, thankfully rich sons-in-law upgrading him to premier classes.
It was painful to see Mani on TV wasting his unmistakable talent with language, razor sharp wit , cutting glass repartee, profound understanding of economic issues, deep empathy mango people trying to defend the indefensible. I admire his continued loyalty to his dead freind. But all said & done , Rajiv , after all is diceased.
His discomfort with current dispensation is palpable in his public face. One wished he came accross calling a spade a spade. Failing which , Mani , keep travelling though you might be missing Swapan Dasgupta as your sparring partner.
Wating for your Haiti diary or will be Botswana next?
Dear Mr.Mani Shankar Aiyar,
I hope you read these responses to your rants(columns?).
I would put forward a few points before you & I am hopeful that you will interpret & analyse them.
1)Your younger brother Swaminathan Shankar Anklesaraia Aiyar(Don't care if I didn't spell that correctly) wrote a magnificent book, which is essentially a collection of his columns called-Escape from the benevolent zookeepers.
Dear sir, YOU, would qualify as a self proclaimed angel who thinks he/she has the moral, economic skills/aptitude to redistribute our wealth effectively & efficiently.
It has not worked here, it will not work anywhere else.
Please read it!!
On another note, it is quite clear who has the brains in yoru family.
2)The economy is not a zero sum game.
The rich don't necessarily get richer by making sure the poor are getting poorer.
That is moth-balled marxist bull which is largely ignored in the 21st century.
3)Inequality of human rights is the problem.
Not really inequality of economic outcomes.People are different.We must accept this inequality.It is not the gap between mukesh ambani and the poor increasing thatI am worried about.
Mukesh ambani could create more wealth than the world bank(does he already?), what eventually everyone that cares about poverty should concern themselves with, is the betterment in living standards of the poor.
Not the distance between ambanis and the others!!
4)Even so, let us look at the Gini coefficient for rural india at 93-94(After india opened up it's economy partially) vs 09-10.
It increased from 0.2844, to 0.3059.
This is from the thick sample survey of NSSO.
Is this a 'rapid' increase in inequality?
Now, the rate of change of poverty is - 1.5%,ie. Poverty has decreased at an average rate of 1.5% annualy.
If this pathetic govt would have less corrupt sleazeballs or even reduce it's powers hence not allowing the corrupt mps to loot us day in day out,it would be MUCH MUCH better.
Urban India's Gini coefficient figures changed from 0.3448 to 0.4015.
Rate of change of poverty is -2.4%,ie Poverty has decreased at an average rate of 2.5% annualy.
Not nearly as bad as Mani & his comrades make it look.
5)Now perhaps the most imp point-India is BY FAR the most diverse country in the world.
Physical & also ,Mental diversity.By this I am referring to diversity in mindsets & ideology.
We have the whole political spectrum here.Far right,Far left & everyone in between.
This gets emphasised by our huge population.
So it is acutely unfair to compare India with another country.We should be comparing ourselves to continents.
We should compare our inequality(& even our GDP per capita,nominal or PPP) with Europe + North America, or the whole continent of Africa.
We shouldn't be talking about our large economy & pitting ourselves against Tonga or Fiji.
Those are countries too.It's just blatantly unfair.
Not to you Mr.Mani Shankar Aiyar, but to your little brother.
You can rot in %$&^
The issue with aparthied, is that it made the two Africans unhappy, equally, if not in the same time, then at different times. I would have really appreciated seeing Nelson Mandela in his village, and he being seen as a friend of every person, when he was incarcerated.
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