This story of South Africa is a notorious one, and we can’t as yet say whether or not it is one which has an entirely happy ending – everyone involved will have a very different experience. It’s paradoxical that Africa’s superpower houses some of the world’s most impoverished people; that exciting, modern cities sit a stone’s throw from unspoiled wildernesses; that its outstanding wildlife is free to roam the continent’s largest game reserve, while the people who campaigned for freedom became political prisoners. But great steps have been taken towards the democracy, freedom and unification of this wonderfully diverse Rainbow Nation, and every passing year brings new developments. Read more ▼
The apartheid regime – meaning ‘apartness’ – was established in 1948, originally as a way to designate independent “homelands” for tribes across the country, and it was even welcomed by tribal leaders who sought greater autonomy.
However, the system descended into racial classification and segregation, enforced “resettlements” for millions of residents, and the gradual removal of rights for the majority black and coloured population. Education and medical care became segregated, with blacks receiving inferior treatment, non-white political representation was abolished, and public areas such as beaches were also separated, sparking violent uprisings during which hundreds of protesters were killed.
The international community responded with trade embargos, and banned South Africa from sporting events including the Olympic Games. However, it’s important to remember that apartheid was not welcome by large swathes of the white community – in 1992, almost three quarters of the white population voted to abolish the system. This demonstrated what a truly minority government it really was – across all sectors.
In 1989, FW de Klerk became president and Nelson Mandela, who had been in prison since 1964, was released the following year. His political party, ANC, was no longer banned, and multi-party talks began. In 1994, after 46 years of apartheid, ANC won South Africa’s first democratic election, Mandela became president and international sanctions were lifted.
Today, South Africa stands on shaky ground. ANC remains in power, yet inequality persists, and First World cities stand in stark contrast to Third World informal settlements and remote rural communities – even today, many people live without running water or electricity. Land reforms too, have been sluggish, and there are periodic revolts over living conditions in the townships. However, investment continues into basic infrastructure, public transport, education and reducing unemployment, and what we are seeing is a country still very much in transition. South Africans from all backgrounds are opinionated on the changes that have taken place, and engaging your hosts and guides in conversation is the best way to really get a snapshot of South Africa today. Just be prepared for a long – and very enlightening – discussion.