Postscript: Perspectives on Apartheid and Social Justice in South Africa

My wife, Barbara, and I remained in country for 11 days after the conclusion of our class on Social Justice and Global Learning through Community Immersion. We traveled east along the coast of South Africa to Port Elizabeth and flew to Krueger National Park where we spent 3 days in a lodge on a private game reserve.

The owner of the lodge and guide for the safari was a middle-aged White man. We were willing to listen without judgment or argument, and in this context he was willing to share his thoughts on the history and status of South Africa. His views provided stark contrast to those expressed by other South Africans we encountered, both Black and White.

His positions emanated from a belief that apartheid and the economic system erected during apartheid were beneficial for Black South Africans, and that the conditions then were far better for Blacks than they are now. Contrary to the generally held belief in the world community, he did not believe that Afrikaaners had stolen the land from native peoples, because Blacks had taken it from a previous native population.

He articulated a strong sense of ownership for the country for which he fought during two border wars with Angola in the 1980s. He expressed pride in the Afrikaan people, tracing their heritage on the African continent back to the 17th century. He expressed the belief that the world community misunderstood the impact of Dutch occupation. He believed Nelson Mandala was a terrorist who didn’t deserve the honors the world has conferred upon him, but instead should have been tried and executed as a common criminal in the 1970s.

Of course, we have no idea how prominent these opinions are among White South Africans. From conversations with others in the country, he would seem out of step. However, his sentiments underscore the hardy defense of privilege by those who have grown accustomed to it, and remind us that oppression can and will endure in the face of changing cultural and political landscapes.

One lesson seems apparent to me: That we need “all hands on deck” to direct community and governmental systems to achieve social justice. Social workers are uniquely trained to contribute to this vision and should strive toward it through a variety of effective roles and strategies.

Adjunct Professor Bruce “Wild Dog” Guernsey, MSW

4 thoughts on “Postscript: Perspectives on Apartheid and Social Justice in South Africa

  1. jstmary

    It appears your travels provided an entirely different perspective through an alternative lens. I found your post interesting, and the issues surrounding Apartheid were resonate in many of my conversations with White, Black, and Colored South Africans, as well as immigrants of other African countries. One of the first discourses I had in Cape Town was with a youngish White man, who shared many of the same sentiments expressed by the guide you encountered. This man was insightful, bright, and intuitive, and yet the notion of racial inequality was very ingrained within him. Additionally, many of the members of the Townships that I had conversations with also stated that life within the communities appeared worse than before Apartheid, apparently, in part, due to the lack of government infrastructure. The expressions by these individuals focused on how the government abandoned those within the Townships, and created complex and complicated barriers in navigating social service support.

    1. Bruce Post author

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences! It would be surprising if no one was ambivalent about or opposed to the humongous changes that have occurred in SA over the last 20 years.

      B.

  2. James Herbert Williams

    Bruce,
    Thanks for your very thoughtful comments. I am not surprised by the racist views of your lodge owner. Twenty-years is a very short time to address a long history of oppression and racism. Psychological colonialism is very evident in many countries in sub-Saharan. Colonialism impacts both the oppressor and the oppressed.

    JHW

  3. jstmary

    I absolutely agree, Dean, and this historical trauma is very evident throughout populations/indigenous cultures exposed to extreme colonization. As Macklemore puts it, “No law is gonna change us, we have to change us…Strip away the fear, underneath it’s all the same love.” Great change starts with the individual…

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