Only 53 percent of whites in South Africa believed that apartheid was a crime against humanity, according to a decade-long study on race relations in South Africa. That low number crystalizes why the country has not progressed from its racist past as much as many had hoped and anticipated.
The study by the Institute of Justice and Reconciliation said the period between 2010 and 2013 witnessed the steepest decline in citizens’ desire for a united South Africa.
It is not what the late, great Nelson Mandela had in mind when he was released from prison in 1990. Those 25 years have seen progress, definitely, but in many areas—fairness, housing, jobs, education—Black South Africans remain woefully underserved compared to white South Africans and Colored South Africans.
For a country whose racism was so deeply ingrained in its laws and customs as recently as two decades ago, perhaps Mandela’s hope for racial harmony and reconciliation was a bit too optimistic.
South Africa has no “history of solidarity across the divide,” said Andre Keet, the director of the Institute for Reconciliation and Social Justice at the University of Free State. “Our style of national politics does not help in developing these solidarities.”
Mandela envisioned a “Rainbow Nation” for his country, a territory where the vestiges of apartheid would have faded into oblivion. That has not happened. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was formed to help in the transition, but that effort has not wrought results needed for a peaceful existence among all South Africa’s people.
According to Anele Mtwesi, a researcher at the Helen Suzman Foundation, racial divisions in South Africa “have been simmering for a while, especially in the last year.”
It also has not helped that a renaming will take place this month of a Cape Town street in honor of the country’s last white apartheid-era leader, FW de Klerk, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 with Mandela. This news sparked protests by some in the Black community, who wonder how true reconciliation can come when the country honors de Klerk, a man whose government led the atrocities of apartheid until its last days.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation has hosted public forums on issues of reconciliation. “The reconciliation project is in trouble,” said Verne Harris, director of research and archives at the Nelson Mandela Foundation. “We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road.”
Harris added: “The vast majority of South Africans live in a reality that is still profoundly shaped by apartheid. It makes them angry. Old divisions and old schisms have become more marked now,” he said.
President Jacob Zuma cited in January Dutch settler Jan can Riebeek as “the start of trouble in this country” in 1652. White South Africans fumed.
Mandela’s former personal assistant, Zelda la Grange, tweeted: “I’m SICK of Jacob Zuma’s constant go at whites every few months.”
Her series of tweets made headlines and angered many Blacks, who denounced her as a racist.
Most troubling is that no one seems to know where to turn to right things.
“We are not traveling on the same path,” Mtweesi said. She pointed out that the burden of forgiveness had been placed on the shoulders of Black people, the victims of past injustices. “I think the burden has become too much. Reconciliation is supposed to be a collective effort.”