Distrust Remains Between Whites, Blacks In South Africa

It is National Day of Reconciliation in South Africa, a public holiday created in 1994 after the end of apartheid to promote racial harmony and heal past divisions. But 16 years after the official end of apartheid, a new survey shows that there is still deep distrust between blacks and whites. Host Michel Martin discusses reconciliation and race relations in South Africa with Ferial Haffajee, editor of the weekly City Press newspaper and Jan Hofmeyr, who's with the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News.

On the program today we will talk about racial segregation and reconciliation in this country and abroad. New census data suggests that in this country, generations-old patterns of segregation by race may finally be breaking down. We'll talk about that a little later in the program.

But, first, we go to South Africa, which has also been struggling to break down historic patterns of racial and ethnic division. In South Africa, today is the national day of reconciliation. That's a public holiday that was created in 1994 after the end of apartheid for exactly the purpose that the name implies, promoting racial harmony in the rainbow nation.

That rainbow nation was on display in this summer's soccer World Cup. It's the world's largest sporting event, and it was successfully hosted in South Africa for the first time. But according to a survey just out, 16 years after the official end of apartheid, there is still deep distrust between blacks and whites. Cities and towns remain highly segregated and cases of racial discrimination brought before the country's courts show that blacks continue to be victims of prejudice, according to the South African Human Rights Council.

And South Africa's race relations were brought into sharp focus recently when one of the country's most popular authors said in an interview that she did not like black people and would not invite one into her home. We wanted to talk more about this. So we've called upon Ferial Haffajee. She's the editor of the weekly City Press newspaper, one of the country's largest weekly. She was the first woman to run a major newspaper in South Africa. She's with us from Johannesburg.

And we're also joined by Jan Hofmeyr. He's the leader of the political analysis group at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation. That's a nonprofit group which produces an annual highly-regarded survey on the state of reconciliation in the country that we just cited. He's with us from Cape Town. Welcome to you both. Thanks so much joining us.

Ms. FERIAL HAFFAJEE (Editor, City Press): Thank you, Michel.

Mr. JAN HOFMEYR (Institute for Justice and Reconciliation): Good day, Michel.

MARTIN: Now, I'd like to ask you, what is the definition of reconciliation as it is understood in South Africa?

Mr. HOFMEYR: I think there's a number of different kinds of understandings. I think the one that we try to espouse is a situation where all South Africans are being respected for who they are. And that also entails acknowledging the injustices that has been done in the past.

MARTIN: Ferial, I'm going to ask you this question: Do you think that reconciliation means different things to different people, depending on who they are?

Ms. HAFFAJEE: I do. I think that race relations generally happens a lot amongst the urban elites where I think the competition for wealth and privilege is much more acute and it cuts along racial lines. I think if you ask ordinary South Africans about how far the country has come, they might measure it in more economic terms: getting a job, being able to pay for school fees. They'll be a rural dweller, small town dweller or city slicker. You still see that those patterns of land ownership have not substantially changed. That the patterns of management, that the patterns of resource allocation haven't changed. And so you will understand yourself not to have been reconciled because your material conditions haven't shifted substantially.

A couple of years ago we went to different schools across a range of classes and asked children whether they still saw race. In the more elite, in the more middle class areas they didn't. They described themselves differently. So if you say to them, what are you? They wouldn't do like I do and first go to a racial description, but go to other descriptors and see themselves as South African.

When we went to the poorest areas, some of the rural provinces, there, I think, a racial categorization was still very much the key identity for most people, be they young or be they older.

MARTIN: Ferial, do you mind if I ask you, while we're on this subject, how would you describe yourself if one were to ask?

Ms. HAFFAJEE: I've always described myself as black. We have four main racial categories in South Africa still, and we still classify by them. So I would be called either Indian or colored, depending on how my hair looks that day.

MARTIN: OK.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Jan Hofmeyr, what about you? Tell me what the survey data suggests. Both things. Are there different opinions about the state of reconciliation, what reconciliation means, depending on whom you ask?

Mr. HOFMEYR: Yes. You just asked Ferial now about the ordinary South Africa now. In the annual survey that we do, we actually ask a question to respondents. And we ask them, what do you regard as the major source of division within this South African society? And for the past three, four years now, we've got the majority response people say, the difference between the rich and poor. And the question of race only features, like, two categories lower down.

MARTIN: I asked Ferial this, so, Jan Hofmeyr, I think it's only fair to ask you this, how would you describe yourself?

Mr. HOFMEYR: I would describe myself primarily as South African, but if you are still asking more detail, I would say Afrikaans-speaking South African.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

In South Africa it's the national day of reconciliation. And I have with me Ferial Haffajee. She's editor of the City Press newspaper, and Jan Hofmeyr, with the nonprofit Institute for Justice and Reconciliation. That group does an annual survey assessing the state of reconciliation in South Africa.

To your point, Jan Hofmeyr, the survey said that South Africans view political party membership and socioeconomic inequality as the things that divide them most. A lower percentage of respondents say race is the biggest division in the country. Is that a change from years past?

Mr. HOFMEYR: Well, for the past three or four years we've seen that economic inequality stood at the top of the list. The issue of political parties, that's one that has sort of moved up during this year. But the question of economic inequality has featured most prominently over the past three or four years.

MARTIN: But there's also been a couple of incidents over the years, one more recently that has also sparked a lot of conversation about the state of race relations in South Africa. I'm thinking of, you know, two years ago there was an incident at a university where a number of, you know, white students forced their - the people who kind of took care of the property to engage in some really demeaning activities, which they then filmed and that sparked, I think, a lot of concern.

Most recently, an award-winning writer who writes in Afrikaans, said that she would invite a white colored or Indian man in for a drink, but said she would feel threatened by a black man. I think her name is Annelie - Jan, help me here - Annelie Botes.

Mr. HOFMEYR: Annelie Botes. Yes.

MARTIN: Annelie Botes. And so, tell me, how did these remarks go over?

Mr. HOFMEYR: When one sort of observes these kind of remarks, incidents like this, you have to ask yourself, how does this happen 16 years into what is supposed to be a post-apartheid society. And I think, you know, one of the answers that (unintelligible) came - will come to mind to me is the fact that although we have got a society where apartheid is not legislated anymore, we still sort of see the geography apartheid being sort of entrenched by class patterns and the continued skewed distribution of economic resources.

And what it basically means is that as South Africans, if we return from our workplace, if we do have work, to the place where we sleep at night, it is sort of predominantly sort of homogenous suburbs or neighborhoods. So we socialize in those areas. And young people today are still being socialized largely within very sort of homogenous environments.

MARTIN: But, to the point, what does this say? I mean, what does it say that she said this, that she's a very popular novelist, as I understand it, that she said this? She apparently has no regrets about it. And, in fact, in further comments has gone on to say absolutely that's how I feel. So the question, I think maybe, Ferial, perhaps you want to take this question, are those views widespread?

Ms. HAFFAJEE: I think they are. You know, she was quickly followed up with the singer and kind of icon in certain circles, called Steve Hofmeyr on his Facebook page, which has a huge number of friends, or followers, rather. And he echoed his sentiments - went even further. A number of writers, Justice Malala, Fet Kamalo(ph), white writers as well, came out and said that we've reached a point in our country where we must call racism racism. And we really should take people like that to the equality courts.

Because, personally speaking, I think that 16 years on, I've kind of had it with the reconciliation thing. For example, if you look at the cleaners who were so humiliated by those students, the vice chancellor, Jonathan Jensen, he's a practitioner of reconciliation. And he decided on a path of forgiveness, having the students back at the university. And I think he met a wall of resistance in South Africa for doing so. Because you've got to say, at what point does reconciliation stop and at what point does an anti-racism fight begin? And I think that moment is now.

MARTIN: Well, I think that's a good place to conclude our conversation for today. Obviously it's a rich and ongoing story and I hope we'll talk again. What next, Ferial? What do you think is the next step?

Ms. HAFFAJEE: I would say that the World Cup showed us at our rainbow nation best. It showed us what we could be. Yes we often have these boiling points, but on the whole, I think that we get on. For me, our much, much bigger challenge over the next five to 10 years is to do what Jan said, and that's to begin to reduce our (unintelligible) coefficient, we're the country with the highest wealth gap in the world.

And I think if we don't begin to deal with our formerly and young unemployed people who just see absolutely no in into this country, no step up into this rainbow nation, then we will have serious problems and some of them may be racial clashes in the future. But I do think that the economy and getting that right is our immediate challenge for the next five to 10 years.

MARTIN: And Jan Hofmeyr, final thought from you. I don't know whether you feel that prescription is beyond your scope. But what steps - if you feel comfortable addressing that question, what further steps do you think would be needed to address whatever gaps still exist?

Mr. HOFMEYR: Well, I truly agree with Ferial, the longer term intervention should be a change in the distribution patterns within the South African economy. I think reconciliation or greater social cohesion can only exist under conditions where there are greater levels of equality in the society. And at the moment we do not have that.

MARTIN: Jan Hofmeyr is with the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation. That's a nonprofit group that holds the annual reconciliation survey. If you want to read the survey for yourself we'll have a link on our Web site. Just go to NPR.org, then go to the Programs page and click on TELL ME MORE. He was on the phone with us from his office in Cape Town, South Africa.

Also with us, Ferial Haffajee, the editor of the weekly City Press newspaper. That's one of the largest weeklies in South Africa. She was with us from the BBC studios in Johannesburg. Thank you both so much for speaking with us.

Ms. HAFFAJEE: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: And happy holidays to you.

Ms. HAFFAJEE: Happy holidays to you.

Mr. HOFMEYR: Thank you.

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