[lg policy] South Africa: Protests Rile up Race Relations in South Africa

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Thu Apr 14 15:23:24 UTC 2016

Race Relations in South Africa: Protests Rile Up
Race Relations in South Africa:
The Fordham Ram <https://fordhamram.com/author/fordhamramonline/>onApril
13, 2016
[image: pretoria color]

A Fordham student studying abroad at the University of Pretoria experiences
protests at the university first hand. (Courtesy of Wikimedia)

*By Caitlyn Vogt*

*Author’s Note: Throughout this reflection I have used the terms that South
Africans commonly use to describe the different races of individuals in
South Africa: white, black, and colored (a term accepted here to indicate
mixed raced). I have used the terms throughout this piece to illustrate the
way I have learned about South African history and politics.*

After living in Pretoria, South Africa for the past few months I have
recognized a distinct intersection between race, class and socioeconomic
status among students and people living in the area. The city of Pretoria
was historically an Afrikaans-dominated region and continues to be so today.

Afrikaans people are generally white individuals of European descent who
settled in the area and speak the language of Afrikaans. The Afrikaans
culture and traditions are particularly alive in the area. The University
of Pretoria, where I study, was also originally founded as an Afrikaans

Within a greater historical context of South Africa, apartheid was the
official segregation of white people and black and colored people.
Although, it ended over twenty years ago in 1994, the effects of the
long-standing separation and devaluation of one group of people continue to
ripple through the social and political discourse.

After studying South African history in one of my classes, I learned during
the apartheid regime, white, black and colored individuals were forbidden
from interacting with one another. The black and colored people faced
limited economic, political and social opportunities as compared to the
white population, and they were pushed to the outer townships that lacked
basic resources.

The African National Congress (ANC) political party spearheaded the fall of
the apartheid regime. Since the instatement of democracy in the South
African government, the ANC has continued to retain political power in the

Even though apartheid ended in 1994 and the democratic South African
government continues to rule, the social effects of the apartheid regime
are still evident in daily life. The rural areas or townships where many
students in my program complete service on a weekly basis are still largely
populated by black and colored individuals. Many of the people in the area
are caught in chronic poverty, lacking the financial, educational and
political resources to rise above the same social situation that their
family members experienced during apartheid. Even beyond the townships of
South Africa where both black and white individuals have more resources,
people of different races are separated. For example, in the city of
Pretoria, some bars are clearly “black” or “white,” even though these
social expectations remain explicitly unstated.

Within the first few weeks of studying at the University of Pretoria,
classes were cancelled for multiple days because of student protests
regarding language policy at the university. The reasons for the protests
varied depending on the students with whom I spoke and their own political

On the surface, many non-Afrikaans students were incredibly frustrated with
the university’s language policies in classes. Because the University of
Pretoria was originally an Afrikaans University, many of the classes are
offered in English, the universally spoken language in the country, and in

However, South Africa has 11 official languages, leaving many students
unable to take a course in their primary language. The majority of the
students negatively affected by this policy are either black or colored.
Some of these students claimed that the Afrikaans students had an unfair
academic advantage.

In response, student factions of political parties organized protests on
campus, demanding all Afrikaans classes to be removed from the university
curriculum. In response, some Afrikaans students reacted negatively,
arguing that the Afrikaans culture and traditions were being unnecessarily
attacked. Many Afrikaans students I spoke with during the protests felt
that since classes in Afrikaans didn’t directly harm non-Afrikaans
students, there was no legitimate reason for protest.

Needless to say, tensions were incredibly high on campus as the
administration at the University of Pretoria deliberated on how to change
the school’s policy in response to the protests. Eventually, tensions died
and campus life resumed its normal activity, even though the university has
not yet officially responded to the protests with an amendment to the
language policy.

Fascinatingly enough, many students claimed the issues had nothing to do
with race relations. To clarify such statements, some students stated that
apartheid ended “so long ago” and that “everyone needs to move on and not
talk about the past.”

I was shocked after hearing a similar sentiment from white, black and
colored students from many different backgrounds. It seems to me that the
social and political effects of the apartheid regime are clearly still
affecting the daily lives of many people in Pretoria. To deny its lasting
emotional impact seems unrealistic and unproductive in creating common
ground amongst the groups of people. In the back of my mind, I continually
see the similarities between the history and politics of the United States
and South Africa, something that I was certainly not anticipating prior to
my study abroad experience.

I am not from South Africa, and spending a couple of months in this country
does not mean that I am qualified to have an opinion on the realities that
I did not face. With that being said, the past few weeks of my study abroad
experience have provided me with the hindsight to consider matters related
to race, class, social justice and culture in a completely different
context from home.


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