Sunday, July 24, 2016

South Africa's White Poor

A fraction of South Africa's white population lives in poverty similar to that of many of the country's black township residents. They are grappling with the same problems.

Barefoot children play with whatever they can find in front of the shanties in which they live. Idle adults sit on stools in front of their shacks; it just gets too hot inside. This was a common scenario for black families during South Africa's decades of apartheid. For many, living conditions haven't improved since the country declared statutory equality in 1994. Leigh Du Preez, the founder of the South African Family Relief Project (SAFRP), says that policies designed to redress decades of enforced inequality have not had the intended effect. But she is not talking about black families: Du Preez says more and more white people have been left unemployed and hungry, having to fend for themselves amid growing racial tensions. "People think that this can't be true, but this is how my people live," Du Preez says.

It is hardly surprising there is little awareness about the issue of growing white poverty. Less than 10 percent of South Africa's population is white, according to the 2014 census, and less than 10 percent of whites live in this kind of poverty. Du Preez explains there are almost 500 informal settlements of white people across South Africa, asserting that "no one will help them."

Munsieville is an hour northwest of Johannesburg, a former landfill, with more than 300 families living in close quarters. "There was nothing at all here before. There was no sanitation, no water, no electricity. Now there's one portable toilet for every three families. It stinks everywhere," she says, adding that the unsanitary conditions have led to outbreaks of bronchitis, pneumonia, and chicken pox.

It's not that the lives of the white camp residents in Munsieville are worse than those of the black community. On the contrary, the vast majority of black township residents are also struggling to survive.
"They are all trying to make this place as livable as possible, with whatever little they have," says Marius Du Preez, Leigh's husband.

A foreign reporter once suggested poor white people might deserve to be in dire straits after benefitting from decades of apartheid rule. Du Preez has heard that argument before: "I can understand when foreign people say those things about us. But they don't understand that apartheid wasn't about [creating] poverty. It was about power and control, and yes, it was bad.
"But we have more black squatter camps under the current government than we ever did under apartheid," Du Preez says. "Plus, we have all these white squatter camps as well. How is that better?"

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