The consequences of inequality are playing out every day in the historically Black community of Soweto.
The non-profit group Phenomenal Women, which supports victims of gender-based violence, was due to open an office there nearly a year ago. But it was destroyed by vandals.
Phenomenal Women Chairperson Chriszelda Jooste Swartz said it’s another side effect of high unemployment, rising drug use and crime.
“People struggle on a daily basis just to get by, just to put one plate of food on the table. So it's joblessness, there’s no job opportunities," Swartz said. " That’s where GBV plays a huge part, because remember, if the woman is unemployed, the husband goes to work, he feels that he's the one bringing in the money. It puts her in a very vulnerable position.”
Phenomenal Women has expanded its work beyond gender-based violence. It’s also collaborating with community agricultural programs to create jobs for youth. Makhosini Ndlovu is a 26-year-old volunteer leading a community garden project.
“No one gets a job. We've been applying here, but no one gets a job," Ndlovu said. "So we decided actually, let’s turn into agriculture. For someone my age, the worst case scenario is someone just turning to gangsterism because that’s the, let me just say, in a place like this, that's the easy way out.”
The issue goes back generations. The World Bank found that the country’s history of racial segregation is continuing to leave Black Africans economically disadvantaged.
Pierella Paci is an equity manager for the World Bank.
“What it means is that there's children that are disadvantaged from birth and never going to reach their full potential," Paci said. "And if they don't reach their full potential, then the country doesn't meet their full potential.”
Better education and more equitable land ownership are among the solutions.
The country already has affirmative action legislation that prioritizes hiring historically disadvantaged groups.
But some experts say the policy has been abused and allowed nepotism and corruption — keeping wealth in the hands of a few.
Gabriel Crouse is an analyst for the Institute of Race Relations.
“We've seen instances of specifically Black women not getting the promotion because of a quota system, which says you're allowed three Black women and three Black men, and one white woman and one white man," Crouse said. "Trying to get a rainbow brochure in every department is having explicit detrimental effects on Black women. I think there's just more evidence that it's that it's crazy, and that we should be going by merit.”
The World Bank also said the government’s taxation and wealth redistribution programs have made life better for the poorest.
But the gap is widening, and parents like Swartz said they are left wondering if their hard work would be more fruitful abroad.