Race Relations and Politics in Southern Africa


Recently, while reading about Zimbabwe’s pre-independence politics, and the liberation war, I came across some interesting information. For one, a writer named Peter Baxter (Who is of Zimbabwean origin but now seems to be domiciled in the United States) wrote an article in 2010 entitled “Race Relations in Africa is never quite what it seems”.

While reading the piece, a certain section of the text piqued my interest. Baxter writes:

“Racism in Zimbabwe, however, reared its ugly head in a way that few people are yet prepared to accept or countenance. Black-on-white racism is the most naked, unadulterated and ugly manifestation of the tendency currently taking place in the world.

“Indigenous Africans when they choose to, have arguably the most highly tuned sense of race consciousness anywhere.”

Now, while the issue of race-relations in Africa is still a sensitive subject, a recent incident at a South African high school deserves mention here.

According to the Los Angeles times, in February 2015, a group of white teenagers stripped a black South African pupil naked, and then tied him to a bed where they sexually assaulted him with a toothbrush and a mop handle while they “hurled racist slurs.” This happened at a South African private school and the incident was recorded.
Racial Political Ideology


In light of the aforementioned incident, perhaps the view held by the likes of Baxter that “Africans… have arguably the most highly tuned sense of race consciousness anywhere,” is accurate. After all, the incident at the South African high school is an example of why that is the case. The fact is that while African states were ostensibly de-colonized, they were not de-racialised.

In other words although Zimbabwe became politically independent in 1980, and South Africa in 1994, it could be argued that whites still view blacks as inferior.

Yet the question is: where did these white teenagers learn this horrid behavior? There is only one answer: at home. While some South African groups have tried to dismiss the occurrence as an isolated incited of “initiation”, what is actually clear is that the apartheid ideology is still being transmitted through culture, family and perhaps religious groups; where else would these youngsters learn how to hate?

Essentially, racism is a complex system of social inequality with an ideological base that is cemented by day-to-day discriminatory discourse and other social practices. In simple terms, racism is transmitted through the  preaching of the political belief in segregation and apartheid based upon skin colour, and its prolonged existence is owing to day-to-day racist banter and practice.
Race and Poverty


The problem in Southern Africa is that statistics of poverty, unemployment and crime tend to refer to black people. Let us look at Zimbabwe as an example. While research reports and statistics often mention that the economy is informal, the implication of these studies, however, is that it is only black Zimbabweans that are informal traders. I for one have not seen any white Zimbabwean airtime vendors, touts, prostitutes or domestic workers.

Does this imply that there is no poverty and unemployment in the white community? Or, does it mean that white Zimbabweans have better access to economic opportunities than black Zimbabweans do?

Taking South African statistics as an example, since 1994, the number of black South Africans living on less than a dollar a day has doubled, and according to the 2011 census, black households earn only 16 percent of that which white households earn.

While the argument that white poverty in South Africa has increased drastically since 1994 is often put forward, the South African Institute of Race Relations reports that “the claim that 400,000 whites are living in squatter camps is grossly inaccurate.

“If that were the case, it would mean that roughly 10% of South Africa’s 4.59-million whites were living in abject poverty. Census figures suggest that only a tiny fraction of the white population—as little as 7,754 households—are affected.”

Now here is the thing: the  incident at the private school which saw young white teenagers openly displaying brutal racism, makes it clear that within white communities the transmission of apartheid racist political ideology continues, and that within white communities, racist practices continue. It should, therefore, be of no surprise to Baxter that “Indigenous Africans when they choose to, have arguably the most highly tuned sense of race consciousness anywhere.”

After all, it is firstly black poverty, and secondly the continuation of colonial arrogance that creates a breeding ground for the Black Nationalist populism whose unfortunate consequences have been seen in Zimbabwe, and which are now taking shape in South Africa. My prediction is that in the days to come, that very populism will detonate in the Western Cape.

Tau Tawengwa

Executive Director

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