Race a Part of S. Africa Election
Jan. 17, 1999
CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) _ From ``lily white'' sports teams to affirmative action in the workplace, a series of political spats has many South Africans convinced race is moving up the political agenda.
President Nelson Mandela's five-year term is coming to an end and his likely successor, Thabo Mbeki, is expected to break away from the conciliatory approach to race that Mandela has followed since the 1994 election that ended white rule.
One of the constant themes of Mbeki's speeches last year was that South Africa is still ``two nations'' _ one rich and white, the other black and poor.
Senior officials of the governing African National Congress deny they are practicing racial politics heading into elections expected to be called between April and June. They say they want to balance the wrongs of the past by redistributing resources from those who prospered under apartheid to those who suffered.
However, political analysts expect race to be a major issue in the upcoming campaign.
``The ANC will attack the position of white privilege and many whites will experience that as racism. The reconciliation period is over,'' said Stampie Terreblanche, a political analyst at Stellenbosh University.
Last year saw Parliament pass tough new legislation forcing companies to employ more non-whites, and Mbeki has vowed to speed up delivery of basic services to millions of poor blacks by taxing well-off whites.
In sports, the ANC has promised to draw up laws promoting nonwhite players on national teams.
Even Mandela has toughened his approach. In recent comments, he labeled mainly white opposition parties as ``Mickey Mouse'' groups opposed to radical change.
Terreblanche described being present at a December meeting between Mandela and white business leaders at which the elderly leader lambasted his audience.
``They were highly critical of the ANC and Mandela was taken aback,'' Terreblanche said. ``He was then rather sharp. He told them in no uncertain terms that the time of white privilege was over.''
Opposition politicians, whose parties attract few black votes, accuse the ANC of bringing racial issues back into politics.
Douglas Gibson, a senior lawmaker from the small, liberal Democratic Party, said the ANC is too quick to play the race card in an attempt to drum up support with blacks.
``The ANC has re-racialized South Africa,'' he said. ``If you criticize a minister for incompetence or for a mistake, they will simply say it is because you are white and defending past privilege.''
Jan Momberg, one of the ANC's top parliamentary leaders, gets angry when anyone suggests his party has adopted racial politics.
As a white Afrikaner who supported the ruling National Party for 30 years during the apartheid era, he says he has never come across racism in his new party, which he joined in 1992.
``I am the whip responsible for the program of legislation. Why give me that job if the ANC were a racist party or seeking to make race an issue?'' Momberg said.
While many white families live in large suburban homes, often with swimming pools and maids, most black people still live in townships and squatter camps. Only one in 20 black men earns more than $615 a month, while two of every three white men earn at least that much.
ANC politicians argue that it is in white people's own interest to address the balance or face an increasingly angry black underclass.
Some political analysts see the mainly white opposition parties as being as guilty as the ANC in making race an electoral issue.
For instance, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, head of the New National Party, regularly compares the ANC to the apartheid-era incarnation of his party, a comment that is bound to increase fears of some whites that they have no place in a black-led South Africa.
``Opposition parties fan the flames in order to get white support,'' said Tom Lodge, a politics professor at University of the Witwatersrand.
But Lodge believes most ordinary South Africans will shrug off the race issue, as they did in 1994 when the country defied the world's grim expectations and held largely peaceful elections.
``If we left race relations to the politicians we would be in an awful mess,'' he said. ``Ordinary people are the best to sort it out.''