20 Years After Apartheid Ended, Blacks in South Africa Still Facing Appalling Racism

Zelda la Grange was the poster child for the “rainbow nation.” She was the blonde Afrikaner girl who grew up in a racist pro-apartheid family—and famously became the assistant to Nelson Mandela, who taught her the power of racial reconciliation and forgiveness.

But today, after a shocking outburst on Twitter about how “whites” aren’t welcome in South Africa any more, la Grange has become a symbol of something more disturbing: the growing racial tensions in a country that was once seen as a model of how to conquer official segregation.

Twenty years after the death of apartheid, there are signs that racism is mounting a comeback —if it ever went away. In Cape Town, there are widespread reports that some restaurants and landlords discriminate against Blacks, refusing to let them book tables or rent houses. The prejudice has become so blatant that one resident has gone onto Facebook to post a list of non-discriminatory restaurants, so that Blacks know where to take their business.

In several notorious cases in comfortable middle-class suburbs, Blacks were violently attacked by white residents who falsely accused them of being prostitutes or criminals. At least 16 such cases of racial violence have occurred recently in the Western Cape alone, according to one local court.

For their part, some whites see themselves as the victims of racial discrimination, because of South Africa’s policies of affirmative action and Black economic empowerment. Some claim they are victims of a “white genocide” because of the large number of murders of white farmers—although studies have found that the murders are mostly motivated by robbery, rather than racial hatred.

Some whites have even tried to rewrite history. One of the country’s most famous Afrikaner singers, Steve Hofmeyr, triggered a storm of outrage recently when he tweeted that “blacks were the architects of apartheid.”

La Grange stepped into this minefield last Saturday when she tweeted her anger at President Jacob Zuma, who had given a speech in which he said “all the trouble began” in 1652 when Jan van Riebeeck arrived with the first Dutch settlers and founded the settlement that became Cape Town.

La Grange temporarily changed her Twitter handle to “Zelda van Riebeeck” and accused Zuma of having a “constant go at whites.” She said the tax money of white taxpayers was “good enough” to finance Zuma’s palatial village residence at Nkandla, yet he still “brutalized” whites.

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