Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Welcome to Kleinfontein, lingering outpost of apartheid South Africa

The Guardian Weekly (Washington Post)
Sudarsan Raghavan
July 30, 2013.

Aspiring Afrikaner-only enclaves highlight how race still shapes the nation's landscape

 A municipality worker waters a monument to the former prime minister of
South Africa Hendrik Verwoerd at the gate to Kleinfontein
community, outside Pretoria, South Africa. 
(Photograph: Per-Anders Pettersson/Washington Post)
At the entrance to the rural settlement of Kleinfontein is a well-kept shrine to the primary architect of apartheid. Nearby rests an old wheelbarrow, a symbol of the white Afrikaners who once ruled the country. Inside the coffee shop, at the bank, everywhere, there are only white faces. A white security guard, wearing grey camouflage, checks cars at a gate on the main road. Race is a key factor for entry. No blacks are allowed to buy or rent houses.

Two decades after the end of apartheid, a system of brutally enforced segregation, this hamlet exemplifies the deep racial divides that still preoccupy South Africa. The existence of Kleinfontein and places like it has set off a debate about the type of country that South Africa should be today.

As Nelson Mandela, the country's first black president, battles a serious lung infection, many South Africans are examining whether their nation has lived up to his vision of equality, engaging in conversations about race, politics and the economy. That has drawn new attention to all-white communities and the festering legacy of apartheid.

To blacks, Kleinfontein is a remnant of a painful past, a gated community of whites determined to perpetuate racist, apartheid-era practices. The several hundred whites who live there say they need to safeguard their Dutch-based Afrikaner culture and language and seek refuge from affirmative action policies and high crime rates that they blame on blacks. They insist that they are not racist, noting that they don't welcome Jews, Catholics or any English speakers, either.

Under apartheid, the white Afrikaner-led government forced blacks to live in homelands to separate the races. Today, the residents of Kleinfontein say the creation of Afrikaner homelands is the best way for South Africa to progress under the black-led government of the ruling African National Congress party.

"I am here because outside there's no place any more for us. We don't feel welcome," said Dries Oncke, 57, a resident. "That's why we start places like this and build them up. We know as Afrikaners we can be safe here. We have a place where we can be ourselves."
Read the rest here.
Comment:  The problem of race segregation is bigger in South Africa than this story suggests.  Sure Kleinfontein and Orania - which is in my home province of the Northern Cape - stick out like a sore thumb but the reality is more complex and even more devious than most outsiders expect.

There are large sections of white people who self-segregate and the vast majority of them do not live in racial enclaves run by committees seeking to keep this or that cultural attribute from being deflowered.

The same can be said of Indian and coloured populations too.  Here in my hometown there are Indian and coloured suburbs that have largely remained intact since the end of apartheid in 1994.

Just a few hours ago I was standing in my driveway looking at my shabby neighborhood when several black African workers were on their way home to Galashewe - the black township that sits adjacent to where I live.

We greeted each other as we usually do but except for one or two black African families my neighborhood has stayed coloured and Malay just like in the days when apartheid ruled.

Some neighborhoods have changed.  Whites sold their homes and moved to get away from coloureds, Indians and African blacks who had the capital to buy houses in formerly white neighborhoods.

For many of these black folks it was/is a sign of their upwardly mobile pretenses and class ascension.

I am reminded of a woman I met the other day who is coloured.  She works for government and makes a lot of money.  Three minutes into our conversation she told me about her new expensive car and her house in a formerly white neighborhood.

"Do you like living in West End?" she asked.  I nodded and she added "we never go out that way anymore because we uptown now."

For whites who want to escape the danger of color there is the illegal practice of redlining that is very present in the US too.  In effect, redlining is an agreement (tacit) between banks and real estate companies to steer blacks and other dangerous colors away from areas where whites live and want to buy houses.

These areas are protected and even if there are opportunities to rent you will never find it easy if you are not white.

I realized this fact during my time in Pretoria.  Several of my black African colleagues could not find rental properties in the better neighborhoods in Pretoria.  These were/are mostly populated by white residents and rental agencies steer black folks away.

A few months into my time at the huge gated community I was living in I realized that save for me and one other person of color all of my neighbors were white.

My colleagues told me I was lucky to get in and it made me think how I was able to get that place without being steered away.

The truth is - and I am not making this up - the day I called the agent she had just been told she was being let go for whatever reason.  She asked to meet at a coffee shop and we did.  Then she took me to see the place and I signed the papers without even setting foot in the rental office.

When I went to pick up the keys she was gone but not without sticking it to them.  When I got to my new home a white property manager had left me a message to call her.  When I did she told me a long racially-thin story about what was expected from me as a resident.

A month or two into my stay a white couple moved in across from me.  Nice couple and very friendly.  I asked them if they had a call from the manager after moving in - they had not.

We have not come nearly as far as we may want to think here in South Africa.  But we are not unique.

A few months into my stay at a gated community in Portland Oregon in early 2003 a white woman showed up furious at my door.

"I am sick and tired of listening to your loud rap music," she said.

I was stunned.  "I don't even own a music system," I said to the woman who stared at me with hate in her eyes.

"I am not buying your excuses.  We live in a civilized community here and I will report you to the condo board," she carried on.

At that point I asked her to step into my condo and look for a music system but she just walked away threatening me with the fate of eviction.

Obviously my skin color meant that in-between beating bongo drums I was kicking rap like an uncivilized black man who belonged elsewhere.

On my trip to Portland last year I visited with my white neighbor from that time.  He and I have kept in touch over the years and he told me that the same woman had expressed to several residents just how happy she was to see the back of me.

When he protested a little and said that he really liked me and I was a "good guy" she rebuffed by saying "I don't like his type".


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