by Elke Zuern
The defeat of apartheid dramatically changed South Africa's international image. After years of violence and struggle, the pariah state became a model of reconciliation and justice. Its best-known political prisoner and
former freedom fighter, Nelson Mandela, was inaugurated as president to celebrations around the world.
The country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission became a model for other states seeking to address a
violent past. All citizens, regardless of race, ethnicity,
class or gender, were promised a bright new future.
The creation of nonracial democracy was a truly
pathbreaking legal transformation for South Africa.
Under apartheid, the state systematically and brutally
institutionalized racial and economic inequality. Each
South African was classified into a racial category.
Those not classified as "white" faced severe discrimination.
"Homelands" were created for Africans, and
millions were forcibly removed from their homes into
overcrowded and impoverished areas far from urban
centers and jobs. All Africans over the age of sixteen
outside the "homelands" were required to carry a passbook
at all times. Failure to do so resulted in imprisonment.
Marriages and even sexual relations across racial
groups were prohibited. Jobs were reserved for certain
races, and strikes were illegal for black workers. Passive
resistance was also illegal, and public meetings of over
twelve persons were subject to government control.
After decades of brutal oppression the end of apartheid
made all South Africans full legal citizens in the country
of their birth. But the inequalities institutionalized
during decades of apartheid have proven incredibly
difficult to undo. Poverty remains pervasive among
black South Africans. Roughly a quarter of the population
lives below the international poverty line of just $1.25 a
day. Unemployment in South Africa is approaching three
times that in the US. Half of all young men and women
have never had a job. Many are too frustrated by their lack
of prospects to continue looking. While a small number of
black South Africans have become extraordinarily wealthy,
the majority still struggle to get by.
The campaign against apartheid was a struggle not just
for democracy but also for liberation from oppression and
poverty. This wide-ranging campaign was eulogized, supported
and expanded through the work of innumerable
artists and writers. The music of Miriam Makeba, Hugh
Masekela, and Lucky Dube; the writing of Mongane Wally
Serote, Zakes Mda, Nadine Gordimer, J. M. Coetzee, Andre
Brink and Breyten Breytenbach; and the plays of Athol Fugard
and Mbongeni Ngema, among many others, drew
attention to the crimes of apartheid and the struggles of
those living under it. Today's generation of South African
activists and artists continues to draw attention to the challenges
many citizens and residents still face.
Omphile Molusi brings us voices from Itsoseng, a township
on the edge of the former "homeland" of Bophuthatswana,
which also included the (in)famous Sun City. It is one of
many poor townships where community members still
dream of the dramatic improvements promised with the
end of apartheid. While those who live in Itsoseng and
elsewhere in South Africa are now free to travel across the
country, to speak out, to marry whomever they want, to
form political parties and run for office, the majority still
struggle against the stark legacy of inequalities so firmly
entrenched by apartheid.