Carla Botha, a junior transfer student at UM, grew up in the northern province of Limpopo, South Africa. She and her family later moved to the city of Johannesburg before she came to live in the United States in 2009.
She is 32 years old and as a child, she said, she witnessed the end of Apartheid. She described her family as “white, middle-class South African citizens with all the middle class privileges” but mentioned that hers is not the average situation.
“We think everybody’s equal but everybody’s not equal,” Botha said. “We have running water at the house but the people in the townships, they don’t necessarily have running water and they don’t necessarily have electricity. There’s still a huge difference between even just middle class and poor. I’m not even talking about rich.”
On Tuesday, Wilmot James, a South African parliament member and a federal chairperson of the Democratic Alliance Party, spoke to UM students about Nelson Mandela’s “unfinished business” and the current circumstances in South Africa.
Mandela was a member of the African National Congress, South Africa’s current governing social democratic political party. He fought for the rights of black people in South Africa and for the end of Apartheid, a system of racial segregation in the country. Mandela became the first democratically elected president of South Africa in 1994 at the age of 75.
James said that Mandela had a vision and a dream that South Africans would live in peace and be equal before the law, but in present day South Africa “Mandela’s dream remains unfulfilled.”
“Black entrepreneurship is a scare commodity in our country,” he said.
He also discussed the negative stigma attached to the success of black South Africans.
“There’s this culture that’s emerged where anybody who succeeds in the black community must have done something wrong,” James said. “That really sets people back in terms of attitude and so on. They don’t want to succeed. If they succeed they don’t want to be noticed. So they’re not good role models for that.”
South Africa also has a major issue with economic disparity within racial backgrounds, James said, mainly between the very rich and very poor black citizens. The situation involving complete racial equality in South Africa, they both agreed, has not been resolved.
“There’s a sense in which things are infinitely better today compared to the apartheid years in terms of access to justice and freedom that we do have and is constitutionally protected,” James said. “The Constitution of South Africa is a very good document, but it has to be brought to life by the contact of citizens.”
Botha shared similar sentiments and compared South Africa to the U.S. in the years immediately following the Civil Rights Movement.
“It’s 20 years later and it’s still very racist,” Botha said. “South Africans are in those beginning years where things are still turbulent and people are still unhappy and things are not going well.”
Even though no one is forced to live anywhere based on their race, Botha said that blacks and whites often separate from each other due to cultural differences.
“It’s not necessarily something you can just change or bring together and now everybody’s one big happy family,” she said. “It’s a tough situation”
Botha also pointed out that racism in South Africa affected whites as well. She says that soon after Mandela took office, her father lost his job and struggled to find another “because he was a white male, and white males were seen as the enemy because it was the white males that put Mandela in jail back then.”
James denounced this form of racial retaliation and said that it was not a part of Mandela’s vision.
“The idea that white is evil and black is good is a derivative abomination that locks out a future made together in a land that belongs to all who live in it,” he said. “There’s a lot that we can do in order to make a difference to people’s lives, we just need to keep on working at it. I’m quite hopeful actually.”
Botha, who taught primary school in South Africa, shared similar sentiments.
“I see the kids playing now and they don’t see color,” she said. “Friends are friends: black, white, purple or pink.”
She thinks that those kids are part of the generation that won’t care about race.
“It’s just gonna be like, ‘yeah, we all live together, and that’s the way it is,’” she said.