It’s Official: South Africa’s Whites Remain Disproportionately Wealthy Off Colonial Privilege [Opinion]

Apartheid is not over.

South Africa’s whites still, disproportionately, hold the lion’s share of the country’s social and economic prosperity. A mere 0.4 percent of the Rainbow Nation’s European – read as all whites – citizens are poor, while a staggering 47 percent of the region’s first people, the legitimate Africans, remain trapped in the clutches of colonization’s deliberately enforced poverty.

A recent report released by Statistics South Africa has revealed facts and figures that provide damning insights into the immense privilege still enjoyed by white South Africans, despite the existence of restitutive measures such as Affirmative Action.

Compiled by Statistician General Pali Lehohla, the data-laden document, titled “Whither a Demographic Dividend South Africa: The Overton Window of Political Possibilities,” shines a much-needed light on the hotly-contested debate around the degree to which transformation — more specifically economic restructuring — has been achieved in South Africa.

Even after a cursory glance over the statistical findings of the report, one thing becomes so glaringly obvious that it threatens to silence the protestations against facts permanently and to void the denial of privilege that white people continue to defend.

Apartheid lives!

Not only does it live in the incessant reports of white-led racist attacks and rants that continue to weigh heavily on the daily existence of black people in South Africa, but it also resides in the lingering economic Apartheid that enshrines and upholds the undeterred prosperity of Europeans in Africa.

Huge racial inequality in south africa persists
A day's wages for this gardener in apartheid South Africa is bread and jam and a cup of tea. [Image by Keystone/Getty Images]

Of course, much to the ire of local whites, many of the country’s problems can be attributed to matters of race.

“Why do we always have to make it about race?” whites ask.

Well, quite simply, everything is about race.

Three-hundred-and-fifty years of colonial oppression based on race cannot be undone in two decades. Not when whites absolve themselves of any responsibility for the nearly four-century-old injustices that still mainly benefit us in 2017. Not when whites praise prominent politicians who claim that colonialism brought with it certain advantages.

Moreover, 23 years of whites living off the blanket pardon that was issued by Nelson Mandela in 1994 has not brought any change significant enough for us to stop making it about race.

Madiba’s Rainbow Dream was a marvel in the socio-political history of the world. One of the most peaceful transitions from oppression to freedom ever witnessed. But peaceful transitions aren’t enough, on their own, to bring justice where there has never been justice before.

South Africa’s European population has never accounted for the sins of our past. Never has there ever been a day when whites collectively stood to denounce Apartheid, admit colonialism had zero benefits, and commit to paying reparations following a 350-year-long war.

Now, following the release of the Statistics South Africa report, whites are presented with a timely set of data that we cannot dispute or deny. A set of data that will force us, once and for all, to come to terms with the significant disparities between race groups and to reflect honestly about the reasons why we are advantaged above black Africans, the overwhelming majority.

So, let’s take a look at the statistics.

Disadvantaged youth eat a free lunch while at a camp run by the South African Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS
Small children enjoying a rare meal while participating in a youth program in Soweto. [Image by John Moore/Getty Images]

The report makes it clear, from the outset, that “race remains prominent in socio-economic discourse.” In analyzing the data, four population groups were identified by researchers, “namely black African, colored, Indian/Asian and white,” with black Africans making up at least 81 percent of citizens.

It has been determined that poverty is “extremely low amongst whites (0.4 percent) and Indians/Asians (1.2 percent),” and, quite tellingly, levels of poverty amongst whites have actually decreased.

Meanwhile, poverty levels amongst the colored population are currently sitting at 23.3 percent, while black Africans are burdened with a “staggering 47.1 percent” of the country’s poverty.

Unemployment is “particularly severe amongst the black African population,” with the most affected age group being those who are between the ages of 15 and 34-years-old.

Furthermore, 0,6 million coloreds (28 percent) are unemployed, while 0.1 million Indians/Asians (17 percent), and a mere 0.2 million whites (9 percent) are unemployed.

In terms of private healthcare, Statistics South Africa’s General Household Survey found that “72 percent of whites were members of a medical insurance scheme,” while only 11 percent of black Africans were able to afford premium health services.

Only 20 percent of black Africans and 50 percent of Indians/Asians have the benefit of access to quality medical care.

In 2006, the average income of a white household was R280,870, while black households only earned an average of R37,711 per year. Those figures have increased in the period leading up to 2015, where the median household income for black families rose to R92,983 per annum. White households, on average, remain strikingly wealthier with a median annual income of R444,446 in 2015.

Due to higher incomes, annual household expenditures have also risen. But the report is quick to clarify that “despite high expenditure growth, black Africans’ expenditure choices are significantly more constrained than those of whites.”

To illustrate the point, Statistics South Africa states that “black Africans devote a relatively high proportion of their household expenditure to necessities such as food and clothing/footwear,” as well as on travel costs. White families, on the other hand, have much more disposable income.

Black poverty is on the rise in south africa
A child walks on a dirt road near his home in the South African township of Nomzamo. [Image by Schalk van Zuydam/AP Images]

Yes, there is a pandemic of large-scale corruption in government. Sure, billions of rands have disappeared into the lined pockets of African National Congress cadres in administrative and executive positions.

But too often this reality is used by whites as a scapegoat for all of South Africa’s economic woes. It’s as if whites can’t hold two opposing views at the same time. It’s either the legacy of Apartheid or the government’s corruption, and most often the latter is a favored response in discussions about the lack of economic transformation.

It’s not a simple either-or scenario. The reality is a grey area, but the two forces are distinctly black and white.

As racial tensions continue to escalate, it is time for whites to reconcile our immense privileges – both social and economic (two very different concepts) – with the very recent past that was started, carried out, entrenched, expanded and defended by our fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, neighbours, friends, etc.

South African whites still more wealthy than any other demographic
An apartheid notice on a beach near Capetown, denoting the area for whites only. [Image by Hutton Archive/Getty Images]

White people still have the opportunity to acknowledge our racial advantages and commit to dismantling the systems and institutions that protect white privilege. Our fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, neighbors, friends, etc., who are mostly still alive, never paid penance for Apartheid.

As the beneficiaries of prosperity that is built on gross injustices and human rights abuses, it is our moral duty to do now what wasn’t done in 1994. It is time to make things right. And we can do it despite the corrupt government.

It is only through sacrifice that injustices can be rectified. Examples of potential ways to sacrifice as restitution are embedded, now more than ever before, in public discourse. Seek out the information and become part of the change.

Because it is white people who are ethically and morally tasked with the responsibility of driving the final fatal stake into the heart of Apartheid.

[Featured Image by Schalk van Zuydam/AP Images]