SOUTH AFRICA: Fallen Anti-Apartheid Icon Leaves Behind Inequality

Fallen Anti-Apartheid Icon Leaves Behind Inequality

Fallen Anti-Apartheid Icon Leaves Behind Inequality

by Moyiga Nduru

JOHANNESBURG, Feb 1 (IPS) - Leading anti-apartheid campaigner Adelaide Tambo's struggle for equality in South Africa has paid off in areas of political participation, but the economy still remains in the hands of the country's white minority, say researchers and campaigners.

Tambo, widow of the late African National Congress (ANC) leader Oliver Reginald Tambo, died in South Africa's commercial hub, Johannesburg, Jan. 31. Known affectionately as 'Ma-Tambo', she was a fierce fighter and activist for political and economic transformation. She was 77.

"Politically, people like Adelaide Tambo would be glad that there has been tremendous progress in South Africa. Anybody can form a political party and become president," Frans Cronge, researcher at the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR), told IPS in an interview.

The sacrifices made by revolutionaries like Tambo, Nelson Mandela, the late Walter Sisulu and Govin Mbeki have enabled the ANC to assume power after the demise of the racist apartheid system in 1994, following 300 years of white rule. And Tambo became an ANC member of parliament. Like all in the ANC cadres, her goal was to achieve economic equality in a highly racially diverse country. "South Africa has achieved much in terms of economic growth. But in terms of economic equality not much has been achieved," Azar Jemmine, a director at Econometrix, a Johannesburg-based think tank, told IPS in an interview.

"Eighty percent of the economic power in South Africa is in the hands of whites. The remaining 20 percent is split between blacks, coloured (mixed-race) and Indians," he said.

"Inequality is not only racial but has increased tremendously in the black community," Jemmine said. "Sixty percent of blacks are very poor, 30 percent have achieved a little and 10 percent are doing very well."

"Of the 10 percent highest earners in South Africa, the proportion of blacks classified in this category has increased from 14 percent in 1992 to 32 percent in 2006," he pointed out.

South Africa has a population of about 47 million: 37. 3 million blacks, 4.4 million whites, 4.2 million coloured and 1.2 million Indians, according to SAIRR's Cronge.

"In most businesses, top executives remain white. There is a relatively small pool of black candidates. You can blame apartheid for this disparity. But in 20 to 30 years' time, if we are still having this problem, we'll blame the government of the day," he said.

Some ANC officials are calling for affirmative action to bridge the racial gap. But some campaigners and researchers say that approach will not work. "Affirmative action is not going to help the previously disadvantaged people," Cronge said. "Education is going to help them."

"We need to educate and train people to acquire skills. This is important," Jemmine said. "We should embark on knowledge intensity and skill intensity programmes."

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South Africa's schools, especially black ones, needs to be improved. In the last race-based profiles of school performances in 2003, the Education Department's results revealed a huge disparity.

"Of the 800,000 blacks who should have written their matrix (university entrance examinations), 833 got 'A' aggregate to qualify them to join faculties such as engineering or medicine. Of the 66,000 whites, 6,503 got 'A' aggregate. This means one in 10 whites obtained 'A' aggregate and only one in 1,000 blacks obtained 'A' aggregate. This is a problem," Cronge said.

Power sharing and equitable distribution of resources were not the only headaches that preoccupied Tambo. She has also left behind the debate over changing the "white" place names, which is splitting South Africans along racial lines.

But, before she died, Tambo realised her dream of renaming Johannesburg International Airport to O.R. Tambo International Airport, after her husband. The name changes have outraged whites who have accused the black-dominated ANC government of embarking on a deliberate policy to erase white history.

Take Pretoria, the South African capital, for example. It's already being called by some government departments "Tshwane" -- a Tswana word, means "we are all the same". Pretoria, to which Afrikaners attach a lot of emotion, was named after the Afrikaner hero Andries Pretorius in 1885.

"Legally, the name has not yet been changed. It's still Pretoria," Kallie Kriel, of Pretoria Civil Action, which is fighting to keep the name, told IPS. "So far, 12 major Afrikaans names have been changed since 2000. They include big cities such as Petersburg which has been renamed Polokwane and Louis Trichardt which has become Makado."

"It's the Afrikaans names which are being targeted," he said. "The Afrikaans names have specific importance and cultural values."

But some believe that race relations are actually better in South Africa than they have been historically.

"In a recent study, the majority of South Africans said they believe that race relations have improved. But they believe that race and racism remain part of daily life," Cronge said. "In any society in the world, there is discrimination. Look at what's happening in the Middle East. And look at what's happening in Iraq between Sunnis and Shias."

Tambo, a medical nurse by profession, was married to Oliver Tambo, law partner of former president Mandela. After the 1976 Soweto uprising, she and her husband fled, settling in Britain. Tambo, who collapsed at her home in Johannesburg, after 30 years had returned to her country, before South Africa's 1994 multiparty elections.

Tributes have been pouring in since her death. "Starting from 1944 when she began working for the ANC as a courier, Ma-Tambo devoted her entire adult life to the struggle against apartheid and the creation of a democratic non-racial and non-sexist society," President Thabo Mbeki said in a statement.

"As well as being a pillar of support to her late husband and president of the ANC, the late Oliver Tambo, Ma-Tambo contributed to the struggle immensely as an activist in her own right," he said. (FIN/2007)