News / Africa

    Reporter's Notebook: South Africa Still Struggles With Racial Reconciliation

    The shadows of a mother and child are cast on a shack in Marikana's Nkaneng township in Rustenburg, 100 km (62 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, August 15, 2013.
    The shadows of a mother and child are cast on a shack in Marikana's Nkaneng township in Rustenburg, 100 km (62 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, August 15, 2013.
    Chris Simkins
    Nelson Mandela’s greatest legacy to South Africa was his belief in forgiveness and reconciliation among the racially divided population. But has South Africa truly reconciled?
     
    I first learned about race in 1970, the year North Carolina de-segregated its schools. My first grade teacher interpreted this to mean that she should put the black children - including me - on one side of the class, and the white children on the other. My mother was outraged. She complained and demanded change. On the very next day, the issue was resolved and for the first time in my life I was sitting next to white students.  Just a few years later on the other side of the world, South African children who looked like me were being shot dead by police as they protested an unfair education system.

    In 1993, I had the honor of meeting Nelson Mandela, the man imprisoned for 27 years for fighting South Africa's racist regime and who emerged triumphantly to overturn the system. Visiting Washington, I asked Mandela about the South African government setting a date in 1994 for the country's first election in which citizens of all races were allowed to take part.

    "That is a good thing for the forces of peace in our country because that is what we have been demanding all along," he said.

    Less than nine months after that interview, I watched along with the rest of the world as South Africa was transformed, seemingly overnight, by those long lines of black voters, casting their ballots for the first time and electing a man who believed not in revenge and division, but in love and forgiveness.  
     
    I have spent the last few decades examining race in the United States as a reporter for the Voice of America. Our shameful racial history is not that far in the past, and in my work I've found that deep racial divisions still remain in American society.
     
    And so, I was curious upon my first visit to South Africa earlier this year to see how far this country has come with regard to race relations.

    I was confronted with race the very moment I landed. Local news stations were covering a small group of white South Africans who were protesting. They claimed they were being discriminated against and were under threat of a "white genocide." They cited figures that some 3,000 whites have been killed in the last decade. Last year alone, South African police counted more than 16,000 murders countrywide.

    Then I was off to Marikana, the dusty mining town where South African police shot dead 34 striking miners in 2012. A militant new political party led by firebrand Julius Malema was holding a rally. Malema believes that Mandela and his successors did not do enough to address economic inequality and raise the living standards for black South Africans. It is a message, and an angry one, that resonates with many young blacks. Here is what one of his supporters told me:
     
    "We are calling on black people to wake up and realize that the economy of this country is still in the hands of the minority," he said.
     
    In Cape Town, I met 40-year-old Tony Whittaker. He is what South Africans call “colored” - meaning he is of mixed race.

    “Deep down I am still very angry at the injustices they did to us and they got away with it. Apartheid has been buried on paper, but in real life nothing has changed," he said. "We can vote, we can go to the beach, we don't have to stand at the back of the line to make room for white people anymore. But in present day South Africa the colored people are still ostracized."

    I began to see that this is far from a black and white issue. If anything, it has become associated with a widening economic gap that is still aligned with race.

    A recent study by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation found that class is now more important to many South Africans than race. However, researchers also found that South Africans at the very bottom of that scale are nearly all black. A chilling illustration of this is found in the most recent census: the average white household earns six times what the average black household does.
     
    During my time here (in October 2013), I found myself worried by these trends. What hope can we have for a country like this, I wondered ? And then, seemingly overnight, something changed. Nelson Mandela died at the age of 95 and sent the nation into celebration, mourning and reflection. The many colors of the Rainbow Nation again beamed around the world. I watched on television as tens of thousands of South Africans - black, white and in between - gathered to mourn him and to pay their respects beside his coffin. The emotions of reverence, sadness and pure love looked the same on every face. It made me hopeful. It made me optimistic.  

    My first brush with racism was solved overnight. I, along with the rest of the world, wished the same for South Africa so many years ago, and I see now that was never possible. But today I have great hopes, and great love, for this Rainbow Nation.

    You May Like

    Hope Remains for Rio Olympic Games, Despite Woes

    Facing a host of problems, Rio prepares for holding the games but experts say some risks, like Zika, may not be as grave as initially thought

    IS Use of Social Media to Recruit, Radicalize Still a Top Threat to US

    Despite military gains against IS in Iraq and Syria, their internet propaganda still commands an audience; US officials see 'the most complex challenge that the federal government and industry face'

    ‘Time Is Now’ to Save Africa’s Animals From Poachers, Activist Says

    During Zimbabwe visit, African Wildlife Foundation President Kaddu Sebunya says poaching hurts Africa as slave trade once did

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolatei
    X
    July 29, 2016 4:02 PM
    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Ivorian Chocolate Makers Promote Locally-made Chocolate

    Ivory Coast is the world's top producer of cocoa but hardly any of it is processed into chocolate there. Instead, the cocoa is sent abroad to chocolate makers in Europe and elsewhere. This is a general problem throughout Africa – massive exports of raw materials but few finished goods. As Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, several Ivorian entrepreneurs are working to change that formula - 100 percent Ivorian chocolate bar at a time.
    Video

    Video Tesla Opens Battery-Producing Gigafactory

    Two years after starting to produce electric cars, U.S. car maker Tesla Motors has opened the first part of its huge battery manufacturing plant, which will eventually cover more than a square kilometer. Situated close to Reno, Nevada, the so-called Gigafactory will eventually produce more lithium-ion batteries than were made worldwide in 2013. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Polio-affected Afghan Student Fulfilling Her Dreams in America

    Afghanistan is one of only two countries in the world where children still get infected by polio. The other is Pakistan. Mahbooba Akhtarzada who is from Afghanistan, was disabled by polio, but has managed to overcome the obstacles caused by this crippling disease. VOA's Zheela Nasari caught up with Akhtarzada and brings us this report narrated by Bronwyn Benito.
    Video

    Video Hillary Clinton Promises to Build a 'Better Tomorrow'

    Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton urged voters Thursday not to give in to the politics of fear. She vowed to unite the country and move it forward if elected in November. Clinton formally accepted the Democratic Party's nomination at its national convention in Philadelphia. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more.
    Video

    Video Trump Tones Down Praise for Russia

    Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is toning down his compliments for Russia and Vladimir Putin as such rhetoric got him in trouble recently. After calling on Russia to find 30.000 missing emails from rival Hillary Clinton, Trump told reporters he doesn't know Putin and never called him a great leader, just one who's better than President Barack Obama. Putin has welcomed Trump's overtures, but, as Zlatica Hoke reports, ordinary Russians say they are not putting much faith in Trump.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora