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Nsizwazonke Yende
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How colonialism and apartheid impoverished the African population

18 February 2013, 10:03

The question that I often ask myself is “if it is the case that majority of the African population are still impoverished by the historical and the current political system and have no stake in South Africa’s future, can we say that apartheid is really over?” If yes, the change of political system in the post-colonial and apartheid state seems to be failing to change the economic relations that underpinned the colonial state.

The reality about the current system is that it was born by the past and is the product of the past, therefore its implementation is directly proportional in relation to the past, in other words it is not an independent system but highly dependent upon the past political system. Therefore, as majority of the African population continues to be marginalized, it is important at this preliminary stage to state that although Independence was meant to confer real and tangible benefits to Africans it seems to be failing to accomplish the goal and the mission it was gained for.

The dispossession and subjugation of the African population here in South Africa, makes me to wonder “Has God blessed or cursed us with the resources that he provided us with?” Considering the fact that resources are at the centre of the historical and current injustices that the majority of Africans experience today. However, the reality is that although Black people have gained independence, the footprints of colonialism and apartheid are highly influential even today. The objectives that these systems were entrenched for were achieved and successfully positioned White people to be ultimate victors in the post-colonial and post-apartheid state.

The system of colonialism and apartheid managed to create and build a sophisticated economic system to conquer upon Black majority and serve the interests of the White settler community. The anti-apartheid struggle has not been able to abolish altogether the system of apartheid; rather this system has been combined with democracy to produce the “Democratic-Apartheid state” once written about before. The current White people’s prosperity has a long history to be drawn from, and the truth is that White people received special attention from colonial and apartheid governors, to be where they are today.

Theophilus Shepstone, who was appointed as a diplomatic agent to the “Native Tribe” in 1846, although his policy did not have written vision had mission, to create a better condition for his people. Therefore, he implemented the elements of dispossession and subjugation to the African population for the ultimate benefits of the White population. The Pact Government of the National and Labour parties also came up with the strategy to sympathise with the poor white people; there was a strong pressure to create jobs for them. Therefore, the reservation of existing jobs from the private and public sector for the minority White population (While the Black people were majorly poor) by means of colour bars and civilised labour policy came to being.

Of course, there is a lot of evolution of the colonial and apartheid government practice that this paper overlooks, practices that contain the indelible marks of terrible legislation that framed the current white prosperity and black impoverishment. This includes land grabs and dispossession, imperialism, Bantu Education which is the core element for lack of skills among the majority of Black people, to name the few. However, I wrote this article not because I have any vendetta with the prosperity of the White people, but because I want to highlight how colonialism and apartheid impoverished and its footprints continue to do so to the Black population while the White population remains better off; that is my intention for this article.

The core principal of colonialism and apartheid was to create an economic system and model that condemned the majority of the African population as it is the case today to an inferior standard of living compare to that of the White population. The African population during apartheid seemed to live in the desert, because the oppressive legislation that was created meant that restrictions were imposed upon them. Moreover, they were denied access to assets that are indispensable to improving their living conditions. They could not voice out their concerns, raise issues that affect their livelihood, because such issues were deliberately exacerbated to punish them further.

All these terrible and awful things happened against the African population, because of the structure of legislation and conventional discrimination built on the past conquest and dispossession of the Black population. That is why I asked at the beginning of this paper, “Are resources here in South Africa a Curse or Blessing?” The key factors of such burden was magnified by colonialism and apartheid, so that a dis-appropriate share of resources was borne by the Black population. The apartheid era legislation enabled employers to force Africans wage down and hold them for many decades at the minimum subsistence level. The truth of the past inequalities that still exist even today must be seen, as indispensable in the process by which the current economic system fails to make it possible for the growth and transformation of the South African economy to benefit the whole. That is why I often ask myself, “Are recourses curse or blessing?”

The following, are part of the reasons and policies that contribute to a dysfunctional economic system today; some of them were created to improve the quality of life among the previously disadvantaged sectors of the population; however, they have instead benefited Black Elite and exacerbate White Prosperity. For instance, Broad Based-Black Economic Empowerment and Affirmative Action were meant to improve the quality of life among the poor Black population but they don’t. We often see White people driving nice vehicles written for instance “Thembalethu Construction”, and then ask myself are Black people employing the White people now in their companies?

The answer is a big no; White people register their companies under the name of a Black person so that it may seem as if Black people benefits from these policies but the reality is that they are exploited from them. The truth is that Black people still experience colonialism and apartheid even today as they did in the past. The impoverishment of Blacks has a long history and there is still a long way to go in order to abolish it in this era. It is for this reason that the post-colonial and apartheid South Africa has failed to deliver on its promise to the majority of Africans who remain in poverty, which is an issue that has to inform any conversation among people who are passionate about their country.

The problem about our current political system is that it focuses mainly on implementing economic policies against the White population; while figuratively exacerbating the impoverishment of Black people, instead of focusing on property right. Colonialism and apartheid was underpinned by a well thought out legal system that conferred property rights on the system’s intended beneficiaries. That is how the system of colonialism and apartheid impoverished the Black population and their leaders continue to do so in the current state. However, the reality that one cannot deny is that all this started in 1652 and was exacerbated in 1876 after the discovery of Minerals in South Africa.

It is true that economic growth is achieved by increasing a nation’s wealth, as this also enhances its potential for reducing poverty among the previously disadvantaged sectors of the population and solve other social problems. But, history offers a number of examples where economic growth was not followed by a similar progress in human development. Instead, economic growth, in some societies, resulted to inequality, exploitation to those Blacks who were employed, increase jobless growth, undemocratic policies and over-consumption of resources needed by future generations all these were for the benefit of the White population.

Nevertheless, as I have stated earlier, this paper is written without any battle against the current white prosperity, but to point how colonialism and apartheid impoverished Blacks for the benefits and advancement of the White settler community. However, South Africa is well endowed with rich minerals and human resources and yet its citizens are alienated from them by the means of exploiting such resources in a manner that advances the South African inequality. That is why I often ask myself that are recourses curse or blessing here in South Africa? Nonetheless, the history has a long story to tell about the current inequality between Black and White populations.

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