Poor whites in South Africa
April 20, 2008 7:24 AM   Subscribe

Given the history of the country and the fact that a huge number of South Africa's black citizens still live in conditions of desperate hardship, a film seeking to draw attention to white poverty in that nation might understandably raise some eyebrows or some suspicions. But Poor Whites - South Africa is worth a view. Perhaps things aren't always quite as, er, black and white as this South African TV spot would indicate. Meanwhile, ANC president Jacob Zuma, visiting poor whites at a shantytown yesterday expressed surprise at the level of poverty among white people. "You have shown me that it exists", he said to Solidarity officials who had invited him.

NOTE: Predictably lunk-headed YouTuber comments are in FULL EFFECT at the YT link here. Avoidance heartily recommended.

ALSO NOTE: I'd like to make it clear that my posting this link to MetaFilter is not a personal "endorsement" of the film's message. It is not a political statement on my part, and I'm not "taking sides" with the filmmakers. I simply found it interesting and, as I said, worth a view. That's all.

The PSA TV advertisement ends with the message "TAKE ANOTHER LOOK AT MZANSI". Didn't know what that referred to, but here's what Wikipedia says, and what South Africa.info says.
posted by flapjax at midnite (16 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
'Poor Whites' have existed for a long time in South Africa, for at least 20 years... there were 'poor white' ghettos during the apartheid years, although their existence wasn't that well know outside the country. Though it's possibly got worse in recent years (... though I find it almost impossible to cry for most of the Afrikaners)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:54 AM on April 20, 2008

I find it difficult to be sympathetic with the Afrikaners as well. I think Essop Pahad was pretty much right on the mark with his comments in the video.
posted by onepapertiger at 9:30 AM on April 20, 2008

Wow, it's almost like social maladies can affect white people, too.
posted by Law Talkin' Guy at 10:05 AM on April 20, 2008

Great to see that the white-led Solidarity union has enough entrepreneurial instinct to remain relevant (and profitable) by taking up the cause of a social class (white Afrikaner lower class) it once campaigned hard to keep out of the workforce.

The real solution to this problem is not to say "Oh, poor white South Africans, let's re-establish quotas to give them help", but instead to increase funding for education, social housing and social welfare.

Unfortunately, so much of South Africa's population needs help that it will take a long to time to make this happen. So poor, white South Africans will have to get in line with the rest of South Africa.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:18 AM on April 20, 2008

I guess it's fair to say that change is not good for everybody.
posted by semmi at 11:57 AM on April 20, 2008

The real solution to this problem is not to say "Oh, poor white South Africans, let's re-establish quotas to give them help", but instead to increase funding for education, social housing and social welfare.

Well, throughout history, those in power have always been more than happy to play the poor against eachother based on race, religion or whatever, since otehrwise they might just get together and defeat their common enemy. I'd even venture to say that this strategy (blaming the plight of non-whites on poor whites, blaming the plight of poor whites on non-whites) has been a big part of what's kept racial conflict alive for centuries.
posted by jonmc at 11:59 AM on April 20, 2008

I find it difficult to be sympathetic with the Afrikaners as well.

Not all whites in South Africa are Afrikaaners. Last time I was in Munich my taxi driver was a South African white - a German immigrant. He wasn't too sympathetic towards the Afrikaaners either. The taxi gig was so he could support his family back in Pretoria.

The fact of the matter is that SA is a country with a complex racial composition. Trying to break it down into black-white is the sort of gross simplification that bigotry is based on.
posted by three blind mice at 12:20 PM on April 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well, throughout history, those in power have always been more than happy to play the poor against eachother based on race, religion or whatever, since otehrwise they might just get together and defeat their common enemy.

I've heard this for years and it may well be true, but I'm wondering, is there a smoking gun anywhere, or is it just the historians' interpretation for how various hatreds have played out? A sort of Zimmerman telegram, as it were? "I say, let's pit the Irish, Blacks, Anabaptists) against the (Italians, Chinese, Jains) , that will solve our problem!" vs "Thank God the (Irish, Blacks, Anabaptists) and the (Italians, Chinese, Jains) keep going for each others throats, saves us a world of trouble." How would you engineer such a thing, especially in the pre-literate ages? Off hand I can think of nothing, so I'm counting on the combined reading history of Mefi.

(I'm making a distinction here between divide adn conquor as a military strategy going back to Julius Caesar and Sun Tzu and a political strategy for internal control of citizenry. I'm also making a distinction between agent provocateurs targeting a single group in order to make them show their disloyal colors. (Also, any instances of those in power being cooperative across the race religion divide while their underlings are at each other's throats?))
posted by IndigoJones at 4:28 PM on April 20, 2008

I lived in South Africa and I did see poor whites, begging for change, etc - they tend to fall through the cracks for the same reasons that white people in predominantly white countries do.

Anyone who grew up poor, or lower class in any country probably grew up in a house that didn't have many books, had parents without university degrees, had to struggle to find money for school, may not have had the best access to health care or nutritious food, was less likely to own nice clothes to wear to job interviews, didn't have well-connected friends, and probably felt some negative impact from the social problems which tend to ride with poverty.

I suspect there is very little social mobility in South Africa based on what I saw happening on job sites. Essentially South African work and labour tends to rely a lot on men and muscle and less on machines than people in equivalent jobs in North America might use. I was present on a fair amount of building sites in South Africa, and never saw a cement mixer in use - it was always done by hand; something I had never witnessed before; I took a couple of turns - it is heavy, hard labour (even more physically intense than loading freight on to airplanes). What I draw from that is while a good, reliable construction labourer in North America might end up as a heavy equipment operator or truck driver and see his pay increase as he moves through his career, the guy mixing cement by hand is more likely to be injured and has less room to move to better roles on the job site so he starts as a guy-in-blue-coveralls-with-a-shovel and largely stays there.

This becomes something really hard to fix, I have never seen a government in a liberal democracy that was comfortable with directing its social priorities towards leveling class equalities rather than talking about leveling race, gender or language inequalities instead.
posted by Deep Dish at 4:36 PM on April 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

Why are they all fat?

No, really?
posted by borkingchikapa at 3:45 AM on April 21, 2008

One of the things that's often overlooked, though it's touched on in the video, about South Africa is how wide the split the white community is between the Afrikaners and the rest (mainly descendants of British settlers plus more recent immigrants). I mean they even have Afrikaner and non-Afrikaner schools.

Why are they all fat?

Their traditional diet is calorie intensive plus the same reason that a lot of poor people are fat the world over... unhealthy food tends to be cheap.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:38 AM on April 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

flapjax: 'mzanzi' is a colloquial (Xhosa, I think) word for "South" or "The South" (as in South Africa, obviously), and, in this case, alludes to the pay-off line used to brand the television station the ad was developed for: SABC 1: Mzanzi fo sho.
posted by Mrs. Tex Benitez at 5:22 AM on April 21, 2008

Aha! Thanks, Mrs. Tex.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:02 PM on April 21, 2008

Well, going back to the Boer era, clearly a lot of white South Africans were struggling as much as any farmers. I think that Americans tend to think of South Africa's racial divide in the same terms as American racism, but there are significant differences. The blacks in South Africa are less comparable in some ways to a class of slaves or sharecroppers than they are to American Indians on reservations.

That said, there has been tremendous "white flight" from South Africa, though not at the rate of, say, Zimbabwe where whites are clearly all but persona non grata. Clearly those who could leave have done so, whereas many who maybe needed to leave could not, either for financial or personal reasons. I wonder what the migration rate is. There is probably always going to be a determined white community (divided as fearfulsymmetry has noted eponysterically by the way), but whether this will sort itself out into a true multi-racial society seems still up in the air.
posted by dhartung at 9:15 PM on April 21, 2008

This is a fascinating video, though I wish that the documentarians had put things a bit more in context. For instance, they mention that white unemployment has increased by some 200% (don't remember the time frame), but don't say what it has increased to; later in the video they mention that black unemployment is 60%. I doubt that white unemployment is anything near that.

As fearfulsymmetry says, the documentary also doesn't seem to explore the rifts between the Afrikans community and the Anglo white communities - are there socioeconomic reasons or language differences which are behind the greater problems of Afrikaners (which was implied in the video)?

I was also confused by the statistic of 60% black unemployment. According to the CIA factbook, black Africans are 79% of the population (2001), but unemployment itself is only running at 24.2% (2007 est) -- but 60% of 79% would be 47.4% -- have I done my math wrong, or have things substantially improved since the documentary was made? It's still scarily high, but it sounds much better that it was.

(as an aside point, I can understand the gov't minister's reaction somewhat (when he seems confused and offended that all she wants to ask about are poor whites), but she should have just said "I'm asking about poor whites because I'm doing a documentary on poor white people in South Africa. Poor black people are important, but that's a different documentary". )
posted by jb at 7:40 PM on May 19, 2008

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