Blacks Make Bold Bid for South Africa's Middle Class

Despite township violence, family says reform gives hope

FROM their modest home in the middle-class section of this turbulent black township, the Balula family dreams of a better future. ``I would like to see my children building the new South Africa,'' says 42-year-old Bennett Balula, an earnest man who reflects both the excitement and trauma of a country in transition.

The Balulas' hopes have been kindled by the release last year of African National Congress Deputy President Nelson Mandela and moves by President Frederik de Klerk to share power with the black majority.

But since the ANC agreed last August to suspend its armed struggle, a power struggle has developed within the black community between ANC supporters and members of the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party of Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi. The Xhosas, the second largest tribe, dominate the ANC leadership. The Zulus are the most populous black tribe. Balula insists, however, that their conflict is not tribal.

``It is a political struggle. Inkatha wants to be the dominant political organization,'' he says. ``The ANC is not only there for the Xhosas. It is there for everybody. But Inkatha is there only for the Zulus.''

Balula is better qualified than most to make a judgment. He is a Xhosa and his wife is a Zulu.

It is an unusual match by African standards, but their successful marriage would seem to undermine the perception that Xhosa-Zulu strife is inevitable.

Like many urban Zulus, Rose Balula opposes the tribally-based Inkatha movement and sees it as one of the prime causes of the township violence. Bennett Balula agrees. They are both trusting people who want desperately to help make peace happen.

Because he is black, Balula has been thwarted at every turn. In 1958 when he was 10 years old, his family was forced out of the settled African community on the outskirts of whites-only Alberton (15 miles south of Johannesburg).

Like hundreds of thousands of black families nationwide, Balula was the victim of a relentless social engineering campaign aimed at keeping the towns and cities white. He and his family were moved several miles away to Tokoza, a bleak ghetto with few shops or recreational facilities. He has endured labor strikes, economic discrimination, influx control, and the disruption of his children's schooling.

``I get angry when I think about the wasted years of apartheid,'' Balula says. He is distressed by the breakdown of law and order in the townships and the loss of parental authority over militant black youths known as ``comrades.'' Sometimes he wishes that he was able to turn to religion.

Until six years ago Balula was a regular churchgoer at the Old Apostolic Church. Then he decided to swap his religion for political commitment. ``When I realized that things in South Africa were not going to come right of their own accord - and why Mandela was in jail - I made up my mind that I, too, must be involved,'' he says.

In 1984 Balula, the epitome of a law-abiding citizen, joined the ANC underground. Since the ANC was legalized a year ago, he has been a local ANC committee member. But he opposes the ANC's policy of economic sanctions because ``they hurt everyone.''

``[Anglican Archbishop Desmond] Tutu says De Klerk changed because of sanctions,'' says Balula. ``I don't agree. De Klerk changed because he saw that apartheid was wrong and that there was nothing wrong with the ANC.''

Breaking class barriers

Three years ago Balula, an auto mechanic who also works as a driver and a handyman, made a bold bid for the middle class. He applied to buy one of the new brightly-colored houses that are springing up on the outskirts of neglected townships like Tokoza.

It was a major decision for the Balula's to leave their established network in the old part of the town. It is further from schools, which means he has to pay taxi fares for his children to get to school each day.

Nearly half of Balula's meager $480 a month salary goes toward repaying the loan on his $12,000 home. He does not have an automobile, but his employer occasionally lends him the company pickup truck.

Rose Balula is a proud and serene woman who manages to care for her family and feed them well despite a tight budget. The recent wave of violence has scared her to the point where she has asked Bennett if she could go and stay with her sister in a less troubled township. Bennett, the eternal optimist, has thus far talked her out of it. But he knows the problem will arise again the next time the violence flares.

For the past six months, townships like Tokoza have become South Africa's ``killing fields,'' a seemingly hopeless chain of fear, hatred, and revenge.

Balula has been horrified by the killings and the brutal methods that are applied: dismemberment, castration, beheading, and torching. Each day he longs for the nightmare to end.

Recent political changes have given him hope that the social and political ills underlying the violence will be addressed. He was encouraged by the recent meeting between Mr. Mandela and Mr. Buthelezi and hopes that the worst of the violence is over.

Looking toward the future

Balula has often found himself a helpless bystander in the conflict between radical township youths known as ``comrades,'' and tribally-oriented Zulus who live in overcrowded men-only hostels. ``We must get rid of the hostels and give people family homes,'' he says. ``Hostels are the result of apartheid.''

Balula adds that economic discrimination, inferior black education and housing are other legacies of apartheid. But he is ready to forget the past now that Mr. De Klerk has acknowledged that apartheid was a mistake.

``Some of us want to join the ruling National Party to help De Klerk now that he has opened the party to all races.... There are so many people in the ANC that we can afford to have some going to the National Party,'' he says.

The move by the National Party to open its ranks to all races last year had more of an impact in the black townships than the announcement this month that remaining apartheid laws would be scrapped. Few blacks have the financial resources to take advantage of the removal of racial bars to the acquisition of land and housing.

Bennett Balula's readiness to forgive is striking if one considers his past circumstances. In their hastily-built middle-class home, the Balulas are making sure that their children are educated for the new South Africa. ``There will be a future for black people in this country,'' Bennett says.

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