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South Africa – The Drift Towards Civil War

South Africa

South Africa

I started to write this blog post back in 2018 and since then never published it. This July on my summer holidays I read about the riots taking place in South Africa. It made me think of my unfinished post. I think it is still relevant, so I decided to publish it two years after it was actually written. 

In 1989 the iron curtain fell and East Germany reunited with Western Germany. In the aftermath we could observe the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the freedom of Eastern Europe. Ever since many Eastern European countries changed and mostly closed the economic gap that existed between Eastern and Western Europe. Only a few years later in 1994 apartheid in South Africa found finally an end. There was much hope South Africa would develop and prosper as the so called Rainbow Nation. In 2018 twenty two years later not much of this spirit has survived. Even though many black and coloured persons stepped up the social scale the overall unemployment rate for black people increased. The crime rate is notably high. To give an example: South Africa’s murder rate in 2013 was 23 times higher than in France (wikipedia). As if this was not enough the country suffers badly from high rates for rape, car hijacking, kidnapping or farm attacks. But crime is not the only curse, corruption and misgovernment hold back the country on its way to flourish.

As a result the population as a whole suffers from this situation. The perception of the different ethnic groups is quite different though. The whites will certainly perceive the situation as loss and blame the new political order. The majority of blacks still wants an improvement to their situation but only a few of them can benefit from an improvement. The vast majority will find themselves discontented and will still blame the white minority for their misery. At the same time we can observe huge problems in many parts of Africa, which results in a big influx of African emigrants to South Africa. This too does not help to relax the social tensions. When everything goes bad it can only get worse. When there was a big drought in the summer of 2018 Cape Town nearly ran out of water and agriculture severely suffered. The authorities were blamed of being passiv and lethargic. Not an inspiring situation, indeed.

Let’s quickly go back to the beginning of the text. Most of the Eastern European countries managed the paradigm shift from socialism to the western liberal system. Why this was possible cannot be answered here but it certainly stands in contrast with the situation in South Africa where an economic paradigm shift was not even necessary. South Africa changed its political and social system in a way that it followed the free and liberal democracies. And yet after 22 years one cannot really speak of a successful transformation. All the indicators tend to show new lines of separation within the country. Now it is not state run apartheid but something like seclusion. Black and white do not come together as one, they live side by side but mostly culturally disconnected. They are still apart in their majority and outspoken or not, each group blames the other for the failure of success.

This situation makes me think of British India. When the British Raj weakened during World War II and the Indians’ fight for freedom showed its effect, the Muslim population saw itself  becoming a minority in a free democratic country. As the Muslims ruled India for many centuries they feared retaliations in a Hindu dominated India and thus started asking for an own independent state. In 1947 India got freedom but as a divided country through the partition of British India into Pakistan and todays India. The partition was a nightmare with millions of deaths and nobody can tell whether it was a wise step or not. Though British India was split up many Muslims remained in what is India today and there is still a 10 to 15 percent Muslim minority in India. By law they have the same rights as the Hindus. But they are marginalised in many ways, often treated as second class citizens and sometimes even brutally attacked. Hindu nationalism shows that the pressure of the majority towards the Muslim minority does in fact weigh heavily. So the idea of partition is by itself at least quite understandable. The practicality of partition with the successor states of British India is questionable when looking at the wars fought by India and Pakistan. And last but not least we may not forget the secession of East Pakistan that is now the independent state of Bangla Desh. But on the other hand there are many signs that indicate that living together peacefully and equally is not (yet) possible. With this said I will turn back to South Africa. When I see initiatives like The Suidelanders’ movement I connect it to India’s partition. The Suidlanders are a group that has prepared an evacuation plan for white Africans should violence occur in the country. At first sight this might seem quite extreme and be purely a reaction of some right-wing or racist thinking white African. I think it is much more like realistic fear, delusion and lookout for new perspectives. When talking about fears, South Africans President Jacob Zuma certainly fueled them when he sang in a public sing-alongYou are a Boer (white man), we are going to hit them….” . Quite scary and it reminds me of Germany’s darkest past.

If South Africa does not find a way to protect and respect the white minority for their economic achievements, the tensions threaten to explode. It is very clear that black people have a right to personal fulfilment and economic development. But this will not happen if the frustration is turned into violence against the whites. Such a policy only looks for a scapegoat but not for solutions.


About David X. Meier

David X. Meier has a Master's degree in Social Anthropology at University of Zurich. One of his special interest are ethnopolitical occurrences and issues and the hope that the awareness of ethnical issues will help to establish peace and understanding.

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