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Current Racial Tensions in South Africa Symptomatic of Deeper Issues, says Analyst

The murder of white supremacist Eugene Terre’Blanche has brought to the forefront simmering racial tensions in South Africa. Despite the end of apartheid and the first democratic elections in 1994, there are still many issues dividing whites and blacks.

Hugo vander Merwe, transitional justice program manager for at the Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, says, “I think the recent increase in tension is purely symptomatic of much deeper lying issues.”

He adds, “I don’t think South Africa is facing a crisis at this point. But I think these are unresolved, ongoing concerns both from blacks about historical resentments and ongoing inequalities – and from whites about their insecurity and particularly their personal security concerns that they have in South Africa.”

Slow progress

South Africa held its first truly democratic elections in 1994, ending white-rule. But van der Merwe says the vote didn’t resolve all the issues on either side.

Current Racial Tensions in South Africa Symptomatic of Deeper Issues, says Analyst
Current Racial Tensions in South Africa Symptomatic of Deeper Issues, says Analyst

“Since the 1994 elections, things have progressed fairly slowly in South Africa.” He says, “I think the apartheid system has left a legacy of inequality in income, land ownership. All of those issues, which will not be addressed and won’t be changed in the short term.”

He says It may take a “generation” to resolve.

“I think we’re looking at a system that will take many years to undo. And at the same time, this is hundreds of years of racial oppression that’s left a legacy of mistrust and rather deep-rooted racism amongst many white South Africans,” he says.

After apartheid, South Africa created a truth and reconciliation commission to try to deal with past injustices.

“There’s a lot that can be done and I think there have been concerns that this government isn’t doing enough. And I think there are important measures that have been put in place,” he says.

These include equality courts that address discrimination issues, affirmative action plans.

“But I think at a deeper level,” he says, “issues of how we educate children, how we teach about questions of racial tolerance, those things haven’t been effectively dealt with in our education system.”

Van der Merwe says access to the judicial system, farm and labor practices and crime “aren’t effectively addressed.”

“So the government is facing a challenge to really say that it is in charge. That is has the means to address concerns when they do arise, rather than where they escalate into broader community concerns,” he says.

Short term measures

Heavy security is being put in place for Terre’Blanche’s funeral Friday in Ventersdorp

“What we need to look at in the short term is the role of political leadership. And I think so far we’ve got very strong indications that the ANC (ruling party) leadership is taking this very seriously. That it’s going out of its way to reassure whites and members of the AWB (Afrikaner organization founded by Terre’Blanche) that they do take their concerns seriously,” he says.

However, the Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation official says there are concerns within the ANC itself.

“There’s more and more of a sense that certain people in the ANC, certain factions in the ANC, are wanting to make the most of it, to actually increase the stakes. To make the time to bring things to a head,” he says.

Van der Merwe didn’t name names, but recently ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema was told by the courts to stop his public singing of the song Kill the Boer.

“I think that’s where we need stronger leadership. Up to this point, the Zuma presidency has been very much about trying to accommodate all the differences in the ANC. And I think this is going to be an incident where he can’t allow different people in the ANC to speak out when it undermines the central message of reconciliation,” he says.

Two blacks, a 15 year old and a man in his late 20s, are charged in Terre’Blanche’s death. Police investigators allege the killing stemmed from a dispute over unpaid wages.