20 Years After Apartheid, Whites Are ‘Disgruntled’

20 Years After Apartheid, Whites Are ‘Disgruntled’

The two decades after apartheid in South Africa turned out much better than expected for the country’s 4.6 million whites, but they now own the market on disgruntlement, according to a report in TheEconomist.

South Africa’s pluralistic democracy is well entrenched, the report said. Publishing and journalism thrive. The most successful media mogul, Koos Bekker, is white. Whites make up 9 percent of the country’s 52 million people but less than 2 percent of murder victims. Racially motivated bloodshed is rare. South Africa’s economy is growing slower than its neighbors but the country has a free market, encourages enterprise and South Africa is the largest, most sophisticated economy on the continent.

After its post-apartheid exodus, the white population began expanding again.

Many whites see their country as ebbing away. Afrikaners, mainly of Dutch descent, make up 60 percent of whites and mourn the demise of Afrikaans, their ancestors’ language. It’s no longer spoken in the public sector, and most universities have stopped offering lectures in Afrikaans. Afrikaans was the language of apartheid. In exile in Zambia and Britain, the leaders of the ruling African National Congress spoke English.

Afrikaners are not all doing badly, especially in business. The four largest media companies were about equal in size when the ANC took over. Three were run by English-speaking whites. Bekker, an Afrikaner, has since grown his company to 42 times larger than its closest rival. He did this by investing abroad, TheEconomist reports, making himself a billionaire.

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During apartheid, Afrikaners were virtually guaranteed government jobs. Three out of four Afrikaners—often less educated than English-speaking whites, the report said—are self employed today. One group of former Afrikaner civil servants runs a taxi company for foreign diplomats.

Whites still enjoy the highest income in the country but South Africans of Indian descent (less than 3 percent of the population) are catching up and will overtake whites, TheEconomist reports. White poverty is growing; about 10 percent live below the poverty line. All-white squatter camps have sprung up with residents in shacks made of sheet metal surviving on odd jobs and complaining that poor blacks get more help from the government. Breyten Breytenbach, a writer and anti-apartheid activist, has sympathetically chronicled their plight.

Rich or poor, many whites are disgruntled, according to the report. They complain about ANC cronyism, corruption and black economic empowerment rules that benefit well-connected blacks more than the general population and have produced a new black elite. Larger white-owned businesses must share control with blacks to make up for unfavorable treatment during apartheid.

White disgruntlement has spawned some vile but mostly harmless extremist groups,  TheEconomist reports. Singer Steve Hofmeyr recently led a march to protest “genocide” of whites. A court sentenced five leaders of a group calling itself “the Boer Army” each to 35 years in prison for a white supremacist plot to assassinate Nelson Mandela and drive blacks from the country. AfriForum, which describes itself as a human-rights group defend whites’ “minority rights” in court.

Most whites, some blacks and many Indians and coloureds (as those of mixed race are still known, amounting to 8 percent of the population) support the Democratic Alliance, a liberal party that has gained ground—but not fast enough to challenge the ANC anytime soon. The Democratic Alliance governs the Western Cape province and may get a quarter-or-so of the national vote at the 2014 general election. Its leader, Helen Zille, is white but said her successor will be black. She is trying to broaden the party’s base, perhaps by softening its pro-market economics, TheEconomist reports.