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Saturday, June 2, 2012

More on South Africa

South Africa is fraught with problems; as I am not an expert, these reflections are simply the impressions I had during my stay in the region.

The term “township” refers to regions, typically underdeveloped, where non-whites reside. Townships can typically be found on the fringes of towns and cities; they are easy to spot as the corrugated tin casts a silvery glow in the hot African sun. The official unemployment rate of South Africa is 25-30%; however the unemployment rates in the townships are much higher, sometimes upwards of 70%. Similarly, AIDS is much more prevalent in the townships. South Africa has the highest proportion of residents afflicted with the disease than any other African country. According to trusty old Wikipedia, 31% of pregnant women were found to be HIV positive in 2004 and the infection rate among adults is estimated to be around 20%.

I should note here that the terms “township” and “black” are not pejorative in nature. 

South Africa is among the nations with the highest income inequality in the world; it is very odd. Driving from one side of Cape Town to the other you go from a first world metropolitan city, then through a shanty town that stretches for miles- where millions of sick, unemployed people live, sharing public outhouses and water pumps- and then back to the city again. The clearly drawn lines between wealth and poverty are so dramatic it simply leaves you speechless.

The economy is often described as a dual-economy to capture the juxtaposition of the first and third world within the same borders. Unfortunately, the system seems entirely unsustainable. Roughly 20% of the population is paying extremely high taxes to support the remaining 80% of the population.

Sections 26 and 27 of the new constitution place responsibilities upon the state to take reasonable legislative measures to provide housing and food to the people. Some townships have progressed into middle-class towns; development paid for by the government and an influx of white residents have built up Soweto and Chatsworth so that they have very nice areas, mostly “okay” areas and only a few “ugly” areas. Unfortunately, most townships remain shanty towns with public wells and public outhouses. The government development projects cannot keep up with the need for housing, which is exacerbated by an influx of immigrants from other African nations. 

One of the granaries we visited used a very interesting approach to remain profitable while playing an important role in the community. The company continues to use 1950s technology in order to maintain current employment levels. They had however, installed modern equipment to lift the 150 pound flour sacks because many of the employees are too sick to lift such weight. Another factory we visited us described the difficulties they face with employment turnover; in order to receive grant money, residents must be gainfully employed, so they simply work long enough to begin receiving the grant and then they quit and send their friend to the same factory to get a job, receive the grant then quit.

In the pictures below you can see public housing that was built for miners in the 60s. These buildings are now home to thousands of South Africans; unfortunately they are riddled with asbestos. The second picture shows the new development intended to replace these structures. You can see that litter is essentially everywhere within the township. The third picture shows a public water pump. I have more videos and pictures of townships I will add later as none of these pictures show the corrugated tin shanties which are the most common housing structure within a township. 

One South African made a statement that struck a chord with me, he said, “many countries had apartheid, we just made the mistake of calling it apartheid.” The segregation and racism continue to define unofficial borders and class distinction in South Africa. While this man was correct to a certain extent, South Africa now has to deal with issues that other nations have been mitigating and addressing for a century. One of the most harrowing obstacles the nation faces is the resentment that resides just below the surface on both sides. 

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