Losing the opportunity – continuities of Apartheid hamper quest for a new society – Fellows’ seminar by Gerhard Maré

11 August 2016

“While the existence of legacies are described and referred to in measuring progress in a post-1994 democratic order, core aspects of the past are adapted and maintained. This includes capitalism; race, racialism and racism; traditionalism; and patriarchal gender relations which, to some extent, articulate with and therefore shape the other three,” said Gerhard Maré, Emeritus Professor in the School of Development Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal, current STIAS fellow and member of the STIAS Effects of Race (EoR) project group.

GerhardM - 1
STIAS Fellow Gerhard Maré during his seminar presentation on 4 August 2016

“There are regrettable legacies of apartheid which still leave their disastrous imprints. But also the extension of some essential elements of the past,” he said.

“These are, in effect, continuities,” he continued, “and whether deliberate or avoidable, they each have their own, articulated and uneven consequences in a very different ‘new’ South Africa.”

“Understanding the complexity of what apartheid was, and hence formulating the demands of creating a truly ‘post’-apartheid society, remains subject matter for intense intellectual debate and policy formulation,” he said. Unpacking and investigating these issues and understanding the continuation of racism and its consequences is one of the aims of the STIAS EoR project.

Looking first at the legacies, Maré said: “Apartheid built on and adapted racial and racist practices from British colonialism, throughout leaving its own complex scars.”

“Apartheid used the language of tradition, nationalism and self-determination to give effect to its programme of divided and unequal rule,” he continued. “It took on the language of decolonisation, which was happening elsewhere in Africa and further abroad, and maintained racial separation but of a different type from previous colonial strategies. It divided black people also in ethnic terms creating one white nation and a number of black nations.”

“This implied a separation on social and economic terms,” he said. “People who were surplus to the demands of the white economy were forcibly removed. There was separate social and economic development in the Bantustans of benefit especially to traditional leaders.”

“These had immense consequences for relationships between people – affecting marriage, proximity, socialisation, and everyday social relations.”

Need for redress without perpetuation

Turning to the continuities, Maré pointed out: “The capitalist system has been maintained largely in the apartheid form. There is still fixed private ownership. Land remains a sore point.”

“Capitalism is to be de-racialised and opened to people previously excluded,” he continued, “but continues to generate massive inequalities in a society that is very different to that under apartheid. The expectations of transformation were different from what has occurred.”

“Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) led to the enrichment of a few people very quickly – deracialising capitalism.”

“People, particularly leaders, are not conscious of the values they display – for example, gross consumerism,” he said. “People want to get out of poverty to become a consumer, which further perpetuates inequality.”

A significant issue is that many of the laws aimed at redressing the past (like BEE and Employment Equity) and even the census continue apartheid racial classifications and quantifications. “They are dependent on racial classification and create a template of race – they can’t work without that,” said Maré.

“Ironically, there are now more people engaged in bureaucratic racial classification than there were under apartheid.”

“What you are, in other words, how you fit into a racial category remains more important than who you are,” he continued. “Unless we get rid of racial templates we can’t get away from racialism and, hence, racism.”

Maré conceded that redress without perpetuating the past is challenging. “But,” he said, “it need not have been done on the basis of race. The continuities are seen as essential to address the wrongs of the past but are not solving current problems.”

Maré pointed out that justifying continued race classification on the desired end result is not working “Currently the means are not leading to the required ends,” he said. “We remain one of the most unequal societies in the world.”

“One suggestion is to put a time limit on racial classifications. But the suggestion of a sunset clause for BEE has not been accepted,” he said.

“We have to be more careful of how we classify and of the consequences of classification,” he continued. “Any categorisation should be open to contestation, it should not lock you in. You should be able to ‘leave’ a category.”

Turning to the continuity of traditionalism, Maré pointed out that the previous Bantustans and homelands have largely been handed over to traditional leaders thus maintaining apartheid land boundaries and many of the challenges of traditionalism and patriarchy. “We live in a Republic with twelve kings!” he said. “In the rural areas people are subjects and citizens. One third of the population (about 18 million people) still lives under traditional leadership. This is overwhelmingly poor, rural women whose only access to land and livelihood is through the communal land system.”

Referring to the local municipal elections he noted: “We are being overwhelmed by a cacophony of noise at a superficial level and real change is going unnoticed.” However, he also noted that uncertainty in holding power is good for democracy.

Maré pointed out that we have to understand what apartheid was on every level so that “we can find other ways of doing things. Thinking of another way of being together is the responsibility of South Africans.”

“We have experienced apartheid. But we are not currently creating a different society. It’s shallow. Still a lost opportunity,” he concluded.

Michelle Galloway: Part-time media officer at STIAS
Photo: Christoff Pauw

Share this post:

Share on whatsapp
Share on email
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

Subscribe to posts like these:

Related to this article

News categories


STIAS is a creative space for the mind.