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The face of inequality and denialism in South Africa

Feathers were ruffled on Twitter when Simphiwe Dana tweeted a question on solving poverty in the Western Cape at DA leader and premier Helen Zille. Dana rejected the answer she got – which had to be fewer than 140 characters. The tweeting escalated. Here the two come out of their restricted nutshells.

What Dana would have liked to add:

I am very saddened by the state of affairs in my country. When Mandela took the helm of South African politics there was a palpable change in the air.

Indeed, our 342 years of struggle since the landing of Jan van Riebeeck on our shores was over.

Under colonialism, Africans suffered a physical, mental and spiritual destruction that created a barrenness which left them a shadow of their former selves. We were utterly dehumanised in those years, as our colonisers decided our fate and shunted us back and forth as they pleased. We were the cheap labour that built this country, the cheap labour that continues to build this country.

Mandela was the change we had all been waiting for. Yet, more and more, race politics have been neglected by those who hold the keys to our emancipation. We find ourselves mired in politics that have nothing to do with our people’s poverty.

It is important to realise that ours is a compromise freedom, one that has left economic emancipation dependent on the goodness and willingness of our colonisers to reconcile.

Today we are the most unequal society in the world, with 31 million black people living on R550 a month. Of the 1.2 million learners who enter the education system, only 100000 come out equipped for the job market. A quarter of Africans are unsuccessfully looking for jobs. There are those who have given up looking. We are a country in crisis.

On the other hand, approximately 73% of top management positions in business are held by whites. Ninety percent of senior positions in Johannesburg Stock Exchange-listed companies are held by whites. Generally 94% of white people have jobs.

Despite this evidence of a lack of transformation in our rainbow nation, we still have the biggest complaints regarding the running of the country from the colonial race. Our previous oppressors have become our moral yardstick – telling us right from wrong.

The latest trend is to coerce everyone into believing that race-based politics are bad, racist even.

Is this what we should expect from a democracy? Politics based on deliberate amnesia? Surely we cannot have a class struggle without resolving the race struggle that dominates our past!

A class struggle assumes that inequalities are as a result of the inadequacies of the individual. In our country that is not the case. Colonial enslavement and corruption is how we came to be where we are.

It was with these concerns that I confronted Helen Zille. Now, Zille is entitled to her opinion of me, it definitely is constitutional – but to trivialise my questions and to subvert them to suit her agenda is not acceptable and betrays her leadership abilities. Whatever she regards me as, as a citizen I have every right to question her intentions as a leader who lauds her power over my sensibilities.

I live in Cape Town, arguably the most beautiful city in South Africa. Definitely in the best-run province in South Africa. Yet there is strong evidence of black marginalisation. The stark differences in opulence hit you as you land. Black people are stacked like sardines in townships. There are also those rotting in squalor in shacks. The difference between the schooling of a child in Jan van Riebeeck schools and those in Native Yards, Khayelitsha et al, leaves you in no doubt as to who has an advantage in life.

I confronted Zille with this information for I surely thought her party had done a 180° turn and now embraced black issues as part of the DA’s agenda.

My reasoning was, first, that if our compromise agreements are failing to redress past inequalities, then we have to look to wealth redistribution. This would unlock more resources desperately needed to give the black child a proper chance at life. Second, since the DA controls the best-run province, but continues to fail the black child, the party should be at the forefront of the wealth redistribution call.

Blacks are clearly marginalised in the Western Cape: no DA statistics can hide this fact.

Zille’s boastings fly in the face of the disservice done to the black nation. Is she downplaying the historical racial inequalities that are now causing tensions in the country? Is she in denial of the fact that poverty has a black face in South Africa? Does she see how the fact that 31 million black people live on R550 a month points to a refusal by society to transform? Or shall we toe her party line and blame everything on her nemesis, the ANC?

Education is the key to sustainable development. It is unacceptable and unconstitutional that an African child gets to write matric without ever owning a textbook. This happens in the Western Cape, the country’s best-run province.

The admission I need from her is that our democracy is not enough to effectively redress the inequalities that plague our society.

Sadly, but unsurprisingly, that admission does not seem to be forthcoming. So on a time bomb we shall sit.

  • Dana is an award-winning artist and socio-cultural activist who founded the Black Culture Education Tour
Published in Sunday Times South Africa – 14 August 2011

About Simphiwe Dana

Musician, Writer, Activist, Mom


4 thoughts on “The face of inequality and denialism in South Africa

  1. Sisi Simphiwe I sense passion in your reasoning due to my understanding is obviously based on your location which I concur with. All the things you stated if looked at from logical point of view make sense. Unfortunately I can’t see this changing anytime soon. Pity that all people think about when “wealth” is mentioned is “money”, wealth can also be education. That’s not too much to ask for.

    Posted by moses | October 14, 2011, 00:01
  2. Hit the nail on the coffin

    Posted by duduzile | October 14, 2011, 01:39
  3. Well said miss Dana ,as much as we are aware of the wrong doings of our goverment ,but let us not forget about individuals like Hellen who are busy out there manipulating black people to help her achieve her goal to keep white legacy .

    Posted by Mbulelo Mtatambi | October 21, 2011, 07:15
  4. Perfectly written, I find it amazing how white people condenscend on us yet we still hate each other and want to be oved by them! Best run province my foot, if you don’t care about the needy, then I rate you below 0.

    Posted by mpho | June 13, 2012, 12:00

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