Poverty, and Little Sympathy, in South Africa
By Kerri MacDonald, New York Times
June 25, 2010, 6:00 pm
A woman pushes a cart with a monthly supply of food aid donated to residents of a squatter camp for poor white South Africans at Coronation Park in Krugersdorp. A shift in racial hiring practices and the recent global economic crisis means many white South Africans have fallen on hard times. Researchers now estimate some 450,000 whites, of a total white population of 4.5 million, live below the poverty line and 100,000 are struggling just to survive in places such Coronation Park, a former caravan camp currently home to more than 400 white squatters. Photo: Finbarr O'Reilly, REUTERS [Vancouver Sun]
If there was one thing Finbarr O’Reilly sought to emphasize when he began reporting on white poverty in South Africa, it was that color shouldn’t have a voice in the conversation.
“It doesn’t really matter what color it is,” said Mr. O’Reilly, a 39-year-old Canadian photographer for Reuters whose touching 2005 photo of a Niger mother and child was named World Press Photo of the Year. “It’s an issue that really is quite urgent right now in South Africa.”
The story has rarely been told. But it has been on his radar since a 1994 backpacking trip through Africa, when he noticed a number of poor white South Africans begging for change at traffic lights.
“I started asking around and saying, ‘What’s going on here?’” Mr. O’Reilly said over the phone from Dakar, Senegal, where he’s based. “It’s not a new phenomenon, but the numbers seem to be more apparent than they were in the past.”
Many people react with surprise when they hear the numbers associated with the poor white population. Mr. O’Reilly said there are nearly half a million white South Africans living below the poverty line, and at least 80 squatter settlements near the capital city, Pretoria.
“The common perception is that white South Africans enjoy lives of privilege and relative wealth,” Mr. O’Reilly said. He spent a week in March photographing the mostly-Afrikaner population in Coronation Park, a squatter community of about 400 in Krugersdorp, northwest of Johannesburg.
On the surface, Coronation Park is quaint, with the aura of a verdant holiday resort. On weekends, wealthy Afrikaners picnic there. But a closer look, like the one evoked through Mr. O’Reilly’s reportage, reveals scattered garbage, stray animals and children in bare feet. Small generators and open fires stand in for electricity. Alcoholism and violence abound.
Mr. O’Reilly’s goal is to refute the kinds of stereotypes typically associated with African imagery; to show not only another side of poverty, but the resilience of those who live it.
The residents of Coronation Park were at first skeptical when Mr. O’Reilly approached them. In the past, he said, the local press had depicted them very negatively.
Poor white South Africans blame reverse discrimination
“I was less interested in what they were saying than why they were saying it,” Mr. O’Reilly said. “All of it was aimed at not coming into a place like that with any preconceived judgment, and to try and portray the people for how they are in a dignified way.”
He spent a week in the community and ultimately gained the residents’ trust. Inside their homes — many of which are one-room shanties — Mr. O’Reilly found poignant vestiges of formerly-middle-class lives: religious icons, wall hangings, wooden spoons and Afrikaner lace doilies.
“It was little bits and pieces of former lives that no longer were,” he said. “All these individual items added up to trying to recreate in this new environment the comfortable existence that they would have had before.”
The series from Coronation Park is being shown in an Italian exhibition called “After A.” In his wider look at poverty among white South Africans, Mr. O’Reilly said, it is just the beginning.
» » » » [New York Times]
Hardship deepens for South Africa’s Poor Whites
Mar 26, 2010 09:18 EDT
Sitting in a deck chair at a white South African squatter camp, Ann le Roux, 60, holds a yellowing photo from her daughter’s wedding day.
Taken not long after Nelson Mandela became the country’s first black president in 1994, it shows Le Roux standing with her Afrikaans husband and their daughter outside their home in Melville, an upmarket Johannesburg neighborhood.
Sixteen years later, she lives in a caravan and a tent shared with seven other people, including her daughter and four grandchildren, at a squatter camp for poor white South Africans.
She is one of a growing number of whites living below the poverty line in South Africa who blame affirmative action and the ANC-led elected government for their plight.
Le Roux had to sell her house after her husband died and she lost her job as a secretary at the city planning council — where she had worked for 26 years — after she took time off work to recover from the loss of her husband.
“They wouldn’t take me back because of the political situation,” she says, looking down at the fading photo.
“Our color here is not the right color now in South Africa,” Le Roux says, echoing the complaint of many impoverished whites, mostly Afrikaners who are descendants of early Dutch and French settlers.
While most white South Africans still enjoy lives of privilege and relative wealth, the number of poor whites has risen steadily over the past 15 years. White unemployment nearly doubled between 1995 and 2005, according to the country’s Institute for Security Studies.
Music by 20-year-old Ewald Spence, recorded at Coronation Park (@ Reuters article).
Banned Advert by SABC 1 in South Africa where whites have reversed roles with blacks. Set in Soweto South Africa. Music by: Mapaputsi-kas lam ayoooba.
Seeking to reverse decades of racial inequality, the ruling ANC government introduced affirmative action laws that promote employment for blacks and aim to give black South Africans a bigger slice of the economy. This shift in racial hiring practices coupled with the fallout from the global financial crisis means many poor white South Africans have fallen on hard times.
At least 450,000 white South Africans, 10 percent of the total white population, live below the poverty line and 100,000 are struggling just to survive, according to civil organisations and largely white trade union Solidarity. South Africa’s population is about 50 million.
Many poor whites have ended up in places like Coronation Park, in Krugersdorp west of Johannesburg, a leafy former caravan site beside a water reservoir and a public picnic park frequented by middle-class families at weekends.
Ringed by yellow-brown hills of earth dug up by generations of gold miners, the park was used by the British as a concentration camp for Afrikaners during the Anglo-Boer war at the start of the 20th century. Now it’s home to some 400 white squatters living in cramped tents and caravans and sharing a single ablution block. Cats and dogs roam noisily through the camp, dodging heaps of rubbish, piles of scrap metal and abandoned car parts.
Water is heated and food cooked on open camp fires. The local council cut electricity to the camp after failing to evict the white squatters. The council wanted to develop the area into a wide screen viewing area for soccer matches ahead of the soccer World Cup, which South Africa hosts in June and July.
Some residents, including three black South Africans, have lived there for years. Others arrived in recent weeks.
“If you’re out of work and you haven’t got money, where must you go to? No one wants to help you — this is the only place to go to,” says Dennis Boshoff, 38.
South African President Jacob Zuma visited a white squatter camp near the capital Pretoria last year ahead of his election, saying he was “shocked and surprised”.
“The vast number in black poverty does not mean we must ignore white poverty, which is becoming an embarrassment to talk about,” Zuma said at the time.
White poverty in South Africa is a politically sensitive subject that gets little attention, but it is not new.
Under apartheid, introduced in 1948, whites enjoyed vast protection and sheltered employment. The weakest and least educated whites were protected by the civil service and state-owned industries operating as job-creation schemes, guaranteeing even the poorest whites a home and livelihood.
But with that economic safety net now gone, South Africa’s unskilled whites find themselves on the wrong side of history, gaining little sympathy from those who perceive them as having profited unfairly during the brutal apartheid years.
Trade union Solidarity says there are around 430,000 whites who live in squatter camps. Around the capital Pretoria alone there are 80 squatter settlements. There are over 2,000 much larger black squatter camps across South Africa.
Formerly comfortable Afrikaners recently forced to live on the fringes of society see themselves as victims of “reverse-apartheid” that they say puts them at an even greater disadvantage than the millions of poor black South Africans.
“Blacks get more than whites at the moment. They’re being pulled forward against us. That’s why all of us are here. It’s very unfair because they told us it was going to be equal, but it’s not equal,” said Boshoff.
This feeling of victimisation and abandonment by the state has forged at the camp a collective sense of fatalism, isolation and firm reliance on their Calvinist religion. Each of the camp’s ramshackle huts and tents is adorned with religious paraphernalia and an Afrikaans language bible.
Andre Coetzee, 57, drinks a cup of Coffee; Coronation Park Squatter Camp, Krugersdorp, March 06, 2010. Photo: Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters
Many poor white communities also struggle with alcoholism, violence and abuse but at Coronation Park, social problems have declined. “We kicked a lot of the worst ones out and the fighting and violence has gone down,” said Hugo Van Niekerk, who has managed the camp over the past few years.
Van Niekerk, who solicits donations and helps community members find odd jobs, successfully fought an eviction order last year from the local municipality but he expects little help from the council or government on housing.
“We won’t get houses from this government. If we were black maybe yes, but we are white.”
» » » » [Reuters]
» » [Malaysian Star: Tough times for white South African squatters]
» » [Vancouver Sun: Tough times for white South African squatters]
» » [New York Times: Poverty, and Little Sympathy, in South Africa]
Thousands of Afrikaners fall into Poverty
Afriforum's Helping Hand clip about the silence of white poverty in South Africa
Gauteng -- The well known demographer Prof. Flip Smit estimates that there are 600 000 Afrikaners who have already fallen into poverty.
Thousands of poor all over South Africa have received help from Solidarity Helping Hand's Winter Hope Project.
According to a report recently released by the American Research Corporation Gallup, 56% of South Africans reported in a survey that during 2008 did not always have enough money to buy food for themselves or their families.
In 2009 55% again confirmed the same statistic. The results are based upon 1 000 interviews which were conducted face to face with South Africans.
SABC Afrikaans News Program (with subtitles) about 900 Poor Residents of Tswane (Wolmer) upset about being informed their homes are to be transferred to former disadvantaged blacks. The Freedom Front Plus party steps in to assist.
The past two months Helping Hand's 91 branches delivered 85 tons of food and other living requirement to poor people countrywide. Since the beginning of the year the organisation has provided poor people with 217 tons of food.
Helping Hand participated in the project with numerous churches and welfare organisations. It is the tenth year that the project has been working to relieve the needs of poor people during the winter months.
At the beginning of the project on 1 June, farmers from Hoopstad in the Free State opened their hearts and donated more than a ton of meat, 30 tons of mieliemeal and vegetables to poor people in the Pretoria area. More than 4 500 poor whites from 45 white informal squatter camps received benefits from the donation.
In the Western Cape Winter Hope also handed out hundreds of jerseys, gloves, blankets and scarves in cities such as George, Bothasig, Mosselbay, Paarl, and Ceres. Helping Hand also handed over a tumble dryer, cash and a baby bed to a Security Home in Capetown, as part of the Winter Hope project.
In the Eastern Cape dozens of blankets, bedding and other items were delivered in Despatch, East London and Port Elizabeth.
Family at Lunch, 1962; David Goldblatt
[Some Afrikaners Photographed, 1975: Gallery]
In the past three months Helping Hand has delivered food packets worth R 131 000 to former mineworkers of the Grootvlei mine, in Springs. Approxinately 4 000 mineworkers from the Grootvlei and Orkney mines are unemployed as a result of the Aurora managements decision to let them go.
“Allot of these people would not have had any food during the coldest time of the winter, and if it wasn't for Helping Hand's generosity for these poor people,” said Dr. Danie Langner, executive director of Helping Hand. According to him the winter is however not yet over and many poor people need urgent help.
“It has become time for Afrikaners to take responsibility for the growing number of poor Afrikaaners” said Dr. Langner.
» » » » [News 24]
» » [David Goldblatt: Some Afrikaners Photographed, 1975: Gallery]
» » [John Edwin Mason: Rediscovering Poor Whites in South Africa: Deja Vu (All Over Again)]
» » [New York Times: Poverty, and Little Sympathy, in South Africa]
White poverty in South Africa with an emphasis on the Tshwane Metropolitan Area
Report compiled by Solidarity Helping Hand for Mr. Jacob Zuma July 2008
Solidarity Helping Hand (Excerpts)
Children playing in Tire at entrance of Coronation Park Squatter Camp
Speaking about white poverty in South Africa has become politically incorrect. It is probably the only kind of poverty in the world that is not talked about.
Three years ago Prof. Lawrence Schlemmer estimated that almost 10% of white South Africans had become too poor to live in traditionally white areas. This is a “silent” problem, with very little said about it.
No reliable quantitative data has been compiled in this regard, which hides the extent of the problem. Government has up to the present almost entirely ignored the increase of poverty among white people.
The total number of employed white persons according to the October 2001 census is 1 863 607. Of these, 237 502 or 13% earn less than R1 600 per month. This excludes approximately 430 000 unemployed persons. According to the 2001 Census, the total annual income of 19% of white households is R38 400 or less. Approximately 87,4% of white households consist of 1 to 4 members, which mean that these households need at least R15 480 per year to avoid absolute poverty.
Census 2001 found that around 10% of whites fall in the category that earn this amount or less. Research conducted by the South African Institute of Race Relations showed that white unemployment increased by 74% between 1998 and 2002, while the average for all population groups was 39%.
These are conservative estimates based on the most recent figures – those of 7 years ago. The problem has snowballed since then, although no reliable statistics are vailable.
Solidarity’s De Wet Potgieter undertook a qualitative study to try and determine the extent and characteristics of the problem of white poverty. He visited poor communities in Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, the Free State and the Eastern Cape.
In virtually every community the picture was bleak. Poor white people are caught up in a spiral of misery and the little money they might get from meagre pensions or government grants barely keep them from destitution.
Poor white children in some areas are lured into a life of prostitution and drug-dealing by Nigerian criminals. People that were laid off by government and private employers after 1994 are being told that they are “too white” according to affirmative action to apply for jobs anywhere else.
While it is imperative to help these people to improve their circumstances, one needs to create some hope for these people. This could be done by instilling the principle of job creation at every shelter and poor community.
At the Kosmos Shelter on the old Bela-Bela road, this has been accomplished to some extent. Even though the people there are poor, they all have jobs to earn money with which to improve their lives.
Many more people would be able to do this if the immense pressure of simply trying to keep a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs every day could be lifted from their shoulders.
3. WHITE POVERTY IN THE TSHWANE METRO
Solidarity’s research shows that the problem of “new” white poverty is the worst in the Tshwane Metro. Although it is a common trend across South Africa, the biggest concentration of poor white people is in Pretoria. This can be mainly ascribed to the extensive loss in job opportunities in the western industrial area of Pretoria.
Large-scale lay-offs at companies like Iscor over the past decade have resulted in thousands of jobs being lost.
The western part of Pretoria has for decades been an area where blue-collar workers
resided and worked. With the extensive loss of job opportunities in this area thousands of families lost their income.
3.2 THE INCREASE IN SHELTERS IN AND AROUND PRETORIA
The phenomenon of white shelters in and around Pretoria has existed for many years.
Since 2004, there has, however, been a sharp increase in the number of these shelters.
Initially, this was caused by affirmative action. People received severance packages, which were used up very quickly and with which people could not buy houses. Some of the people in the shelters admit that they had used these severance packages injudiciously and were gradually left with nothing. These people eventually landed in shelters.
The second increase in shelters started in 2007 and is mainly the result of the poor
social economic situation that has developed in South Africa. These shelters are now
increasing daily. People can no longer afford to pay school fees for their children, are laid off because of poor profit margins of business enterprises, while jobs are virtually unobtainable.
Business enterprises that can no longer expand because of high input costs and leave many people unemployed. Small businesses that were starting to grow are increasingly shutting down or becoming bankrupt, leaving whole families on the street are without an income.
Apart from the stories of poor white communities, the details of the lives of individuals also make for grim reading:
- Charmaine Booysen, whose husband committed suicide nine years ago, has to care for her four children with the R900 social grant she receives per month. The rent for the room they all share is R700 per month.
- Lorraine Strydom of Daspoort is 58 years old and has to share a bed with two of her grandchildren, whose school fees she also pays out of what she has left of her R 900 grant after paying the rent. She is totally dependent on the kindness of welfare organisations.
- Hennie Schoeman (64) of Claremont used to be a bus driver for the South African Railways, but was laid off because of affirmative action after years of loyal service. He and his wife and son (29) now have to live in an old caravan and beg to make a living. Hennie is slowly succumbing to asthma – they cannot afford medicine.
A Focus Report on White Poverty in Afrikaans: Includes history of white poverty, in Anglo Boer War, after World War II, and the ANC goverments lack of concern.
- Koos Mitton has never known a life of luxury. His parents split up when he was
small and his mother had to raise her five children on her own. At times they lived
on mouldy bread and rotten meat from garbage cans. Today he is still poor and
suffering. This man, like so many others in Tshwane, has always been one of the
disadvantaged – both before and after 1994.
These are just some examples of the extent of white poverty in the greater Tshwane area alone. One social worker Solidarity talked to, told of a little boy who asked her what a rich person was.
» » » » [Excerpt: Solidarity: White poverty in S. Africa: Tshwane Report (PDF)]
» » [New York Times: Poverty, and Little Sympathy, in South Africa]