South Africa’s new government brings black and white together. It also fuels racial tensions

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CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — In a country where racial segregation was once brutally applied, South Africa’s new coalition government has brought together a black president and a white opposition leader in an image of unity.

Yet there is a power-sharing agreement sealed a week ago between chairman Cyril Ramaphosa‘S African National Congress Party And the Democratic Allianceone of the few white-led parties in South Africa, has unwittingly reignited some racial divisions.

Many black South Africans have expressed discomfort that a white-led party is back in power, even in a coalition. The country is haunted by the apartheid system of white minority government That ended thirty years ago, but is still felt by millions of people among the black majority, who were brutally oppressed by a white government and are still affected by unresolved poverty issues and inequality.

South Africa now faces the likelihood of more whites in high government positions than at any time since the end of apartheid. White people make up about 7% of the country’s 62 million residents.

The ANC liberated South Africa from apartheid in 1994 Nelson Mandela, the country’s first black president. His three-decade political dominance ended in the historic elections of May 29, forcing the country to form a coalition. The DA, with roots in liberal white parties that opposed apartheid, won the second largest share of votes.

Both have promoted their coming together in a multi-party coalition as a new unity that is desperately needed in a country with the United States enormous socio-economic problems.

But the history lingers. The state attorney general suspended one of its white lawmakers Thursday, days after he was sworn into Parliament, over racist comments he made in a social media video more than a decade ago. Renaldo Gouws – reportedly a student in his 20s at the time – used a particularly offensive term for black people that was infamous during apartheid and is now considered hate speech.

Gouws is facing disciplinary action from his party, and the South African Human Rights Commission said it will take him to court. The DA, that one has previously rejected accusations of favoritism against whitesis being re-examined.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions, a key political ally of the ANC, claimed Gouws’ outburst was symptomatic of a prosecutor who is “soft on racists”. The DA “must reflect on this and address this if it is to be accepted by ordinary South Africans as a partner in the unity government,” the report said.

DA leader John Steenhuisen denied in a television interview that his party is exclusively devoted to white interests. If he had, he wouldn’t have won the second-largest share of the vote in a black-majority country. The DA has black and white lawmakers and supporters, but its only black leader left the party in 2019, questioning its commitment to black South Africans.

Political analyst Angelo Fick said the DA has a “sense of whiteness” in the eyes of many South Africans and has created that by being “completely disinterested in speaking about the race concerns of black South Africans.”

Shortly before the Gouws case, the racially charged language came from a different direction MK party of former president Jacob Zuma – once an ANC leader – called Ramaphosa a “house nigger” for entering into the deal with the DA. Zuma’s party also called white DA leader Helen Zille Ramaphosa’s “slave master”.

The MK Party and the Economic Freedom Fighters – the third and fourth largest parties in parliament – ​​have refused to join what the ANC calls a national unity government open to all. They said the fundamental reason is the DA, which they say is only committed to the welfare of South Africa’s white minority.

“We do not agree with this marriage of convenience to consolidate white monopoly power over the economy.” EFF leader Julius Malema said.

Malema sometimes has that caused racial tensions in demanding change, once saying, “We are not calling for the slaughter of white people, at least not for the time being,” and that the “white man of South Africa has been too comfortable for too long.”

He now says his party is not against white people, but against an alleged “white privilege” that leaves 64% of black people living in poverty, compared to 1% of white people, according to a 2021 report by the South African Human Rights Commission .

Malema represents a new opposition to the ANC by many black South Africans who are frustrated with the race-based inequality that is clearly visible after thirty years of freedom. White people generally live in posh neighborhoods. Millions of black people live in impoverished townships on the fringes.

That frustration led many voters to abandon the ANC. Concerns about cooperation with the DA could weaken the party even further.

In his inauguration speech Wednesday, Ramaphosa acknowledged the “toxic” divisions that persisted for decades after Mandela preached racial reconciliation. “Our society remains deeply unequal and highly polarized,” Ramaphosa said.

The ANC is trying to use the coalition as a kind of restart of Mandela’s ideals.

“For us it doesn’t matter whether the cat is black or white,” ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula said of the deal with the prosecutor. Mandela had used the phrase to indicate his openness to all races serving in the South African government. .

“Fundamentally,” Mbalula said, “the question is how we can move the country forward.”

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