As World Cup 2010 kicks off, where South Africa stands 16 years after apartheid
South Africa is a model of racial reconciliation following decades of apartheid, with a burgeoning black middle class. But high crime, unequal wealth, and social tensions persist as the nation hosts World Cup 2010.
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If South Africans seem unclear on whether to be hopeful for the future, certainly reasons exist to celebrate what progress the country has made. "Anybody telling you that South Africa is worse off has no sensibility of what is good and what is bad," says Adam Habib, deputy vice chancellor of the University of Johannesburg, who was a political activist against the apartheid government in college. "I mean, in 1985, I was sitting in prison, because of the state of emergency. So the very fact that the entire population can now vote is a huge improvement, when under apartheid 80 percent were denied that right."Skip to next paragraph
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In addition to political freedom, liberation has brought many benefits to the majority population, Mr. Habib says, including access to the court system, access to bank loans, and greater mobility for families to move to former white-only areas with all the advantages of better services such as electricity, sanitation, security, and schools. Under 16 years of majority rule, South Africa's black middle class has grown exponentially.
The challenge, says Miriam Altman, a social scientist at the Human Sciences Research Council in Tshwane (as Pretoria is now called), is how to manage people's expectations. "You're talking about 300 years of colonial occupation, 48 years of apartheid rule, and 16 years to come up with solutions," says Ms. Altman, who has become a member of President Zuma's newly created National Planning Commission. "There is no doubt that delivery in education and other areas needs dramatic improvement. But I certainly wouldn't say that all hope is lost. We just need to find better solutions."
The question, she adds, is, "What is it that gives people hope? We're a middle-income country. We have resources. But we also have higher expectations."
Tensions between whites and blacks certainly remain. When Eugene Terre'Blanche, the openly racist leader of the extreme right-wing party AWB, was murdered by a black employee in April, members of the organization started talking openly about a "machete race war." The fiery leader of the ANC's Youth League, Julius Malema, did not make things better by continuing to sing an apartheid-era song called "Kill the White Farmer." Both the AWB and the Youth League have since toned down their rhetoric.
Integration has been halting as well. Blacks, whites, and coloureds (mixed race)do attend some of the same schools, both private and public. Blacks who can afford to do so are moving into former white middle-class and rich neighborhoods, and there are even some middle-class whites who have moved into formerly all-black communities like Soweto. But in many schools, suburbs, and corporate suites, integration is the exception rather than the rule.
To gauge just how far the country has come, we asked two middle-class families – one white, one black – to tell of their own experiences of the past decade and a half, and their expectations for the future. Their sentiments are strikingly similar, despite differences in skin color and personal histories.