Having been in Cape Town for over two weeks now, I have had the opportunity to discuss the cities dynamics with both foreigners and locals. I have also been greatly informed by the staff in the LRS office and the Gender and Work documents. This has been an interesting process because I feel that the dynamics of the social inequality between blacks and whites are much more complicated than generally assumed. One thing I have learned is that we ‘foreigners’ often seem too quick to jump to conclusions about South Africa’s rate of change since the end of the Apartheid.
Apartheid is described as the deliberate and systematic division and degradation of a racial class. Although the separation that exists today may not be deliberate, there is still a clear division of classes and cultures in South Africa. The history of apartheid here is shameful and the continued physical, cultural, and social separation of whites and non-whites in this city is awful, but it is important to not overlook the full picture.
Unfortunately the legacy of apartheid still remains. This is particularly true in terms of inequality, in that the country remains defined by race and economic disparity. However, the country has only been ‘free’ of apartheid for little more than two decades. The amount of progress that the country has made so far is incredible; human rights records are positive and the majority of the population is better off today than they were twenty year ago. Based on conversation with the LRS staff I feel that we just need to be realistic about the time it will take for a transformation this significant to be complete. Further, I feel that the political dynamics in the country are slowing down the transition. Although South Africa is a democracy, it cannot yet be compared to Canada or the USA. Like any other country recovering from a significant and lasting conflict, there are roadblocks; an example of this can be seen in the alleged corruption that continues in the country’s government and police force.
The international community, including the IMF and World Bank, also owe some responsibility to the current situation in South Africa and Cape Town. They originally put conditions on financial loans to South Africa following the apartheid and the restrictions they impose along with the neoliberal political policies of the country now prevent true equality from occurring. As such, Cape Town has followed neoliberal trends of income disparity, concentrating wealth in the hands of the elite class and marginalizing the majority population. South Africa was also one of many countries to fall into the trap of the IMF and World Bank’s structural adjustment programs. The World Bank has been involved in the city of Cape Town with urbanization operations since 1992 and as one would assume, South Africa embraced the free market policies that were encouraged.
Further, the United Nations Development Program, which created the Urban Management Program, promoted the active role of the private sector in South Africa. The financial support that was given by international actors were conditional and accompanied by structural adjustment which included privatization and deregulation among other harmful practices. Many other countries that have had structural adjustment implemented are ‘cut some slack’ for the rate of their progress. However, because of the success that South Africa has had with their transition to date, it seems that many foreigners remain incredibly critical. Neoliberalism triggered the shift from citizen to consumer, where the benefits of citizenship were equal to all those who could pay. The white minority in the country remained the population that could afford to purchase the rights that were guaranteed by the constitution. Security and health care are two such services that come to mind and which are largely afforded to and by the people who can afford to pay for such ‘rights’.
The international community’s demand for good governance and neoliberal polices mean that even though all South Africans now have the right to vote, their new freedoms have not yet translated into a better life or the ability to fully exercise their rights and freedoms. Those in Cape Town at least are still much better off today that they were in the apartheid, however based on conversation at our internship there is a lot of room still for change. It is easy to say that South Africa needs to change more quickly but it remains important that the background of the situation is considered carefully. The situation for the marginalized majority is slowly improving but it is very complicated and politics are at play.