South Africa: Worse Now Than Under Apartheid?
Black Press International, Commentary, William Reed Posted: Oct 05, 2007
Editor's note: The African National Congress's and Nelson Mandela's message of reconciliation in post-apartheid South Africa has been the dominant media theme of that country in American media. The other indigenous voices, more strident, less accomodating to apartheid's practitioners, never really got any oxygen in the western press. Now, however belatedly, some of those voices are taking their show on the road.
As South Africa emerges as a leading political and economic force, opportunities for business, trade and cultural exchanges are increasing significantly. African-American business people, academics and tourists have flooded South Africa since blacks “took over” the country. But a leading South African activist is in America saying that conditions for most of the South African population are worse today than under apartheid.
How African-American civil and human rights groups and elected officials -- who staked their bona fides on protests and initiatives that led to blacks running South Africa’s government -- will react to Mfanelo Skwatsha’s tour telling American audiences that the current black government has left the majority of its people worse off than under the white government will be interesting. As Executive Secretary of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) of Azania (South Africa), Mr. Skwatsha will be addressing a series of African People’s Solidarity Day events in the United States and discussing the need for economic empowerment for black South Africans.
When he was presiding bishop for the AME in South Africa, Rev. McKinley Young said, “Black Americans have always wanted to claim they could influence world events… this is one case in which African Americans definitely played a decisive role."
African People’s Solidarity Day events organizer Wendy Snyder says, “Many people around the world who supported the struggle against South Africa’s apartheid system erroneously believe that since the installation of Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress in 1994 conditions have improved. However, Mr. Skwatsha will show, the reality is the opposite. Many workers say life in South Africa today is worse than apartheid." The positions of the Pan Africanist Congress and African People’s Solidarity group flies in the face of African Americans that equated “political empowerment” with “economic empowerment.”
Post-apartheid South Africa is an illustration that political and economic processes run on different tracks. There's been political and cultural progress in South Africa since the end of apartheid, but half the population still lives below the poverty level and wealth remains divided along color lines. Recent years have brought vast improvements in housing, water and electricity, as well as political stability and international support, but even President Thabo Mbeki admits that South Africa is "two nations" -- one mostly white and well off, and one mostly black and poor.
Statistics from the Southern African Regional Poverty Network (SARPN) say that since the official end of apartheid in 1994: “households living in poverty have sunk deeper into poverty and the gap between rich and poor has widened.” Ninety-six percent of South Africa’s arable farmland is still owned by whites and 61 percent of people live below the poverty line with more than a third subsisting on less than $2 a day.
Hardly a rube in matters of his country, Mr. Skwatsha may be a man worth hearing. His PAC was formed when it broke away from the ANC in 1959. It promotes “return of the land to indigenous people” and was outlawed in 1960 after the Sharpeville massacre. Its leaders were exiled or detained for long periods. These included Robert Sobukwe, its founder and leader, who was incarcerated in Robben Island until 1969 and then placed under house arrest until his death in 1978. The PAC was Steve Biko’s party and is based on “working for true self-determination for African people and belief that Africa’s colonial borders is abandoned in favor of one united Africa."
Rather than resting on their laurels after abolishing apartheid in South Africa, African Americans need to take another look at South Africa and focus on ways to build the economy and infrastructure through policies and programs that encourage businesses, provide job training and empower the population.
The African People’s Solidarity Committee and Uhuru Movement “African People’s Solidarity Day" events take place October 13th – 21st at the following U.S. locations: October 13th - 14th in Oakland, CA at Beebe Memorial Church, 3900 Telegraph Avenue; October 16th in St. Petersburg, FL at The Studio@620, 620 1st Avenue South; and October 20th – 21st in Philadelphia, PA at International House, 3701 Chestnut Street.
NAM in Washington
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