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Decade After Apartheid, Racial Issues Continue to Divide South Africans - 2004-04-20

Until 10 years ago, South Africans of different racial groups were separated by law. They were forced to live in different areas, go to different schools, ride different buses. And interracial romance was banned. The word apartheid is Afrikaans for separation. The whole point of the system was to keep the races apart. Today, 10 years after the end of apartheid, those legal barriers are gone, but in many ways South African society is still divided along racial lines.

Courtney Rampaul and Jerene Marie are both in their early 20s, and recent graduates of a Durban technical college. They met in their first year at the college, and quickly fell in love.

Fifteen years ago, their relationship would have been illegal because Jerene is Indian and her boyfriend, Courtney, is mixed-race or colored. The law is no longer a problem. But even in the new South Africa, they still had hurdles to overcome - starting at home.

"You see, my family was all cool because we're colored," he said. "We're mixed anyway!"

"My family had a problem," added Ms. Marie. "It took, how long are we together, three or four years? And it's just been I think eight months, a year since my parents have accepted him into the family. Before that it was just, you know, my parents are in their 50s, and their mindset is different. So it took them a while to adjust, and to become accustomed to the fact that I don't see him as a colored, you know. He's a guy. But now that they've got to know him as a person, they love him!"

Courtney and Jerene are walking along the Durban beachfront with their college friend, Dario Benedito, who is himself a blend of races and nationalities. He is the child of racially mixed parents, born in Mozambique, raised in Swaziland and schooled in South Africa for more than 10 years.

Standing in the sand, Dario points to the scores of people playing in the surf. To a casual observer, it appears to be an integrated crowd. But on closer inspection, he says, the same old racial divisions are still there.

"Racism is still alive and kicking," said Dario. "As you can see everyone is mingling together. But everyone, like, keeps their, you know, like whites will stick with the whites, and blacks will stick with the blacks."

A visit to the same beachfront on a Sunday night tells a similar story. The boardwalk is crowded with people. Whole families stroll up and down the coast, enjoying a hamburger or an ice cream.

Almost everyone is Indian. But outside one bar, Joe Cool's, more than 200 young white people are waiting in line to get inside. An Indian woman in her mid-20's says Joe Cool's is the only place the whites still have on the beachfront. She feels unwelcome there.

Jerene Marie and Courtney Rampaul say they are not afraid to visit Joe Cool's, and they prove it by going there for a lunchtime pizza and a round of pool.

"I think some people, even our age, are a bit scared to mingle with whites, to go into white clubs," said Ms. Marie. "We would go there and still have a nice time, just hang out and we would make friends with the people that are there. But not everyone is, I could say, brave enough to do that." "Or has that mindset," added Mr. Rampaul.

Even 10 years after the end of apartheid, Courtney thinks people tend to be more comfortable with other people who are like them. He points out that there were divisions even among the thousands of Indian visitors to the boardwalk on that Sunday night. He says Hindus tend to stick to the north end of the beach, while Muslims stay at the south end.

"I think the barriers that we see now are more cultural barriers than racial," he said. "People of the same culture mix more easily, you know? It's not just black and white, and you're Indian and this. If you're Indian, and the next guy's black, hey, he's speaking Zulu, I can't understand that. So I chill [relax] with the people I know."

But even though the process of learning to like each other is slow, Courtney and Jerene both think South African attitudes are gradually changing, and people are slowly learning to mix across racial lines.

"You can see it," said Ms. Marie. "We're just out of tech [the college] and all our friends, we used to have such a mixed group of friends at tech. So it's definitely our generation, our children will be different, for sure."

"They'll be beautiful!" laughed Mr. Rampaul.