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Reports on Ethnic Relations  /  Rapports sur les relations éthniques  

The following section is consisted of part, full or summaries of articles from diverses sources (newspapers, newsletters, etc...).
La section suivante est constituée d'exraits, de la totalité ou de résumés d'articles provenant d'origines diverses (journaux,bulletins, etc..).


02 / 00 / 2003 

MAIL & GUARDIAN (South Africa)

The article: "South Africa: A state of permanent transition"
(John Matshikiza)

We have been told endlessly that we live in a society in transition. I suppose no one can tell us when the transition will be over and we can start living like real human beings, like the rest of the world. In fact, the Leadership has long given up talking about transition, while at the same time expecting us to go on living with transitional emblems as if they were a fact of life — the "y-fronts-lying-down" national flag, the ridiculous cut-and-paste national anthem, dodgy political alliances with former arch enemies like Inkatha and the National Party and all the rest of it.

The fact that the date for implementing part of the new schools curriculum keeps shifting is another indication that we are not in what Leon Trotsky or Mao Tse Tung would have described as a state of permanent revolution, but have rather made a name for ourselves by declaring a state of permanent transition.

Then there's the race thing, of course. Or the non-race thing, depending on where you stand. Black people still talk about whites all the time, but whites (at least when there are blacks around) don't talk about blacks anymore. In fact, white people shudder openly when they talk to blacks about apartheid. "What a horrible thing, thank God it's over," they say with straight faces.

"What was so horrible about it for you?" I always want to ask, but somehow never do. But I do often bring up the fact that apartheid is not exactly finish en klaar if we still live with apartheid institutions like blacks-only townships, those blitzed-out, treeless, overcrowded areas reserved for the majority of the population, where life is cheap, infrastructure is non-existent, and anything goes — all this cheek-by-jowl with opulence and splendour for the lucky few just down the road.

Bringing up this issue with whites or blacks is not popular, and the other person will always change the subject. The blacks will look at you as if you are mad and the whites will raise their voices and tell you that everyone is equal now, and please don't bring up the past. So I shut up.

Besides, we have the white-owned, white-run Apartheid Museum to prove to the world that all that stuff really is a thing of the past.

But before I get hand-bagged once again for having nothing positive to say about our wonderful country, let me look at some other areas where our transition is really beginning to show some interesting results. Let us look, for example, at the fascinating Johannesburg suburb of Melville.

The suburb where I and a lot of other former Yeoville layabouts now live, or simply lounge about, is certainly interesting to observe, transition-wise. To those not in the know, it is worth remembering that Melville sits right next door to Westdene, which is the poor-white suburb whose outraged voice finally persuaded the Nationalist government to remove the "black spotÿ 94 of Sophiatown in the 1950s, and make Johannesburg more solidly and securely white forever.

Melville pretends not to share this racist history, of course, but if you listen closely you can still hear that irritating Westdene accent on Melville's genteel streets. Suburban boundaries are a fantasy, after all. In other words, during the days of apartheid Melville had no problem with being whiter than white.

But things are changing now. For example, when I am feeling particularly low on energy (about four times a week, depending on what has been going on the night before) I like to take an early lunch at a certain sushi restaurant on Seventh Street.

This sushi joint is an excellent vantage point for observing the South African transition.

The restaurant itself is something of an interesting anomaly. Sushi, after all, is a Japanese speciality that has spread its rubbery tentacles across the world. But no one who hangs out at this particular spot seems to notice that the expert Japanese sushi chefs are actually Chinese. I suppose all the Melvillites who drop in are too stoned or hung-over to be bothered to work out the difference.

But it is the ongoing live movie that runs past your eyes as you gaze out of the door that is most fascinating.

The street traders of Seventh Street have had a long-running on-and-off battle with South Africa's transitional authorities for years now. The black guys who make a precarious living selling ingenious creations made out of wire and beads seem to have negotiated a reprieve that allows them to ply their trade unmolested, for now at least. They live in uneasy coexistence with the formal shop and restaurant owners of the street, who (until the arrival of a Rastafarian fashion boutique a few months ago) are all white.

The informal car stewards have not been so lucky. Irritating as it might have been for seasoned car drivers like ourselves to be told how to park their automobiles by shabbily dressed former street urchins, the guys performed a useful service in other ways — for example by persuading you to have your car washed at regular intervals, and running to the sushi joint to warn you when traffic cops were about to slap a ticket on your windscreen. For all this you paid a modest tip at your discretion.

The shop and restaurant owners, however, do not seem to have been so well-disposed to these friendly servants of the people. How ill-disposed they were suddenly became evident just before Christmas when, overnight, the informal sector was ousted by a para-military outfit called Ushaka.

Ushaka is a name that sounds afrocentric enough. But in reality it is a white company fronted by steely-eyed guys with blonde crew cuts and bullet-proof vests who employ a sub-group of mostly black guys dressed in peaked caps and white gloves, like Negro minstrels.

The neighbourhood has become slightly uptight again as a result of this invasion. The black customers are incensed on behalf of their dispossessed brothers from the informal sector, and the white customers are cheering a silent "hooray" at the prospect of order and discipline coming back into their topsy-turvy world.

The laid-back life of Melville goes on. But, as I say, transition is by no means easy, and it looks like it's still going to dog us for a long time to come. (John Matshikiza is a fellow of the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research)

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Other data on South Africa / Autres données sur l'Afrique du Sud