Table of Contents
2. Race Issues
3. Sexual Orientation Issues
4. J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace
6. Works Cited
All over the world, in every country, and every second, human rights are violated. There are countries where the situation is not as bad compared to others, which may be why people there assume that there are no human rights violations, but unfortunately, they can be found anywhere. One could choose any country in the world and focus on its human rights violations; it is always possible to find a shocking amount of information regardless of the country. In this seminar paper, I want to elucidate the human rights violations in a country that some people might not necessarily consider a negative example: South Africa. However, one of the fundamental problems with South Africa is that, to this day, the country has been unable to successfully fight its problems. These problems are numerous and cannot be fully explained in this short seminar paper, but it is important to have an overview of the whole situation, which is why I must recommend that people inform themselves about the ongoing situation and developments. In this paper, a quick overview shall be given of two very important issues in South Africa: race and sexual orientation.
As everybody can imagine, South Africa’s situation today is still highly influenced by its past. The country struggles to reach racial reconciliation of its black and white people long after the Apartheid. The situation for LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) people is equally difficult since there is still a high proportion of South Africans who do not accept them and sometimes even violate their human rights in horrible and unimaginable ways. It is even more shocking to hear about these issues considering that South Africa has had a Constitution since the 1990s that should largely prevent discrimination and inequality. Section 9 of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights explicitly addresses the issues of race and sexual orientation, but, based on the ongoing, unresolved conflicts, its power is, in practice, limited. What are the reasons for all these human rights violations in South Africa?
This paper was written in the context of the seminar “Human Rights Violations in Literature, Popular and Digital Cultures” of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. In said seminar, we learned a lot about human rights violations all over the world, including those in countries where one would not expect them. As I already pointed out, due to its Constitution, South Africa is not known for being a country with a long list of human rights violations. However, the situation there is worse than most people imagine. Therefore, it was important to hear about its different human rights issues, which are for example presented in J. M. Coetzee’s famous novel Disgrace. This realistic, shocking and tragic story about life in South Africa will be used in this seminar paper to show the truth about today’s society in the post-apartheid era.
Apart from introduction and conclusion, this paper consists of three main chapters that will try to depict the human rights situation in South Africa. In the first main chapter, we will have a look at the consequences of Apartheid, or in other words, the racial problems between people with different skin colours. The following chapter will focus on the aforementioned types of discrimination and abuse that many LGBTQ people have to face in this diverse and allegedly modern African country. Lastly, I want to dedicate a whole chapter to South African novelist John Maxwell Coetzee’s work Disgrace, as it is a perfect example for what I want to present on the following pages. I will conclude this seminar paper with a short summary of the previous chapters and by pointing out the most important aspects that the readers should keep in mind.
The aim of this paper is to inform more people about human rights violations in South Africa that can no longer be accepted or simply ignored. I will explain what led to today’s situation and what could be done about it. Readers of this paper should have a general knowledge about the human rights situation in South Africa after reading the last page. Given the fact that this is only a short seminar paper and considering the vast amount of human rights violations in South Africa as well as their complexity, I will have to limit the information and explanations included in this paper to what I consider most essential.
2. Race Issues
One of many problems in South Africa has to do with race. Long after the Apartheid, there is still racial inequality between South Africans with different skin colours. The people are already used to regularly hearing stories about black violence against Whites, or vice versa. Years after Nelson Mandela’s death, the multiracial society is obviously still not functioning. Why is South Africa unable to reach a reconciliation of its multi-ethnic people?
First, we should have a look at the Apartheid, considering that it is probably the main reason for what South Africa is suffering from today. It evolved when South Africa was still under British rule, beginning at the end of the 19th century, namely in 1892 with the Franchise and Ballot Act that limited black vote by finance and education. In 1905, the Lagden Commission further institutionalized racism by denying black people the vote, limiting them to fixed areas and inaugurating the pass system. Five years later, in 1910, The South Africa Act even gave white people complete political control over all other races. As we can see, in less than 20 years, Blacks had lost more and more rights until they were finally fully subjugated by white people. (cf. Allen xi)
A few decades later, when South Africa was under nationalist rule, the situation for Blacks did not improve at all and the actual Apartheid finally started (in 1948). For example, in 1949-50, several Acts prohibited marriage and sexual contact across colour, classified South Africans by race and segregated black and white people. Other Acts in the 1950s affected education, rights to strike, employment or religion. In the following decades, Blacks lost the tiny rest of their freedom, rights and dignity that Whites had not yet taken away. (cf. xiii-xiv)
Officially, Apartheid ended in 1994 when Nelson Mandela and the ANC (African National Congress) were elected to change things for the better and reach a racial reconciliation, but racism did not actually end that year (cf. 3). After all, as in other countries, the Whites wanted to maintain their status in society with all its privileges and continue to exploit, oppress, marginalize and subordinate Blacks (cf. Powell 371). Since 1996, South Africa has a Constitution that, among other things, is supposed to fight racism in the post-apartheid era. However, Powell claims that today’s “race-neutral policies are insufficient to achieve racial justice” (375). He further explains that “In short, nonwhite adults live in extreme, concentrated poverty in disproportionate numbers, and many of their children, because of the lack of opportunities and hope, are destined for a similar fate ─ that is, so long as racial hierarchy remains intact” (383).
As we see, achieving racial equality is an extremely complex task, and up until now, South Africa is still struggling with it and trying to avoid a total escalation of the situation. It is true that democratic South Africa has fewer problems with political violence, but, especially due to the increasing racial tension, there has already been a partial escalation when it comes to violent crime, making the country internationally known for it (cf. Dovey 50).
An important issue today related to racial violence is that of farm attacks, which is why I want to focus on them in this chapter. First, it is necessary to explain why farmland and its distribution are so important and such controversial topics in South Africa. Of course, due to the Apartheid, Blacks lost almost all of their farmland to Whites, beginning as early as 1913 after the so-called Land Act (cf. Tihanyi/Robinson 6). After several reforms in the post-apartheid era and with new ones being planned today, South Africa is trying to return more and more land to Blacks so that they can develop a class of commercial farmers (cf. 8). This causes controversy from time to time, since white farmers may not feel personally responsible for the past. However, the redistribution of land could be a helpful measure against the high level of unemployment among Blacks, since agriculture provides a significant amount of jobs in South Africa and has increased its quality of working conditions in the past (cf. 11-12). Nevertheless, the reasons for the importance of farmland are not solely economic, which makes the issue even more complicated. Hall and Ntsebeza state that ownership of land in South Africa can be regarded as “a source of identity and a symbol of citizenship” (Hall/Ntsebeza 8).
Even in democratic South Africa in the post-1994 era, the hopes of black farmers were crushed rather quickly due to the slow pace of the land reform, while white farmers were partly against the ANC’s plans of a redistribution out of fear for their lands. Many of them lost their jobs or had to sell their farms or smallholdings, which was connected to the state’s decision to no longer support them. Therefore, the end of the Apartheid did not have the desired effect on the racial conflict - neither Blacks nor Whites were satisfied. (cf. 9-10)
Although there are not that many people or experts who share this opinion, it is sometimes argued that a land reform is irrelevant for the country’s future. Those in favour of a “de-agrarianisation” claim that the ANC’s land reform will never reduce poverty amongst Blacks. It is true that they also want the farming sector to be “gradually deracialised”, but its efficiency is more important to them, which is why they want the structure to remain intact, basically saying that Blacks would destroy it and thereby hurt the farming sector, South Africa and themselves. The situation for a black farmer in today’s society is more difficult compared to that of white farmers who have owned their property for decades, one has to admit that, and black farmers may be less efficient at the beginning, but this is a result of the Apartheid and has to be changed throughout the next decades. Additionally, this view completely ignores the aforementioned non-economic value of land for Blacks. (cf. 19)
Compared to other sectors, the farming sector has been affected far more by government reforms since 1994 (cf. Human Rights Watch 46). The growing mistrust of farm owners (Whites) against their workers (Blacks) has led to difficult relations on farms and sometimes even worse situations for Blacks than during Apartheid. Nobody knows exactly how many assaults there have been by farm owners against their workers (violence on farms is partly comparable to domestic violence, which, incidentally, is also a big problem on farms), but the number is expected to be high (cf. 63). Evidently, both before and after 1994, workers have almost always had to fear violence or, as a consequence, being kicked off the farm for ridiculous reasons like slight provocations (cf. 64). Life on farms has been especially difficult for black women, since they are not only victims of physical violence, but also sexual violence like rape, and their possible assaulters are all kinds of men (even their husbands) on farms, not just farm owners (cf. 118). Part of what South Africa has to do to stop all this is also to deracialize its public services, such as police or health care, since they often try to cover up violence of white farmers (cf. 64). Therefore, most black farmworkers do not approach the police because it would not be worthwhile (cf. 69). At the same time, whilst ignoring the needs of farm workers who seek help, the police is far more interested when white farmers want to report a crime (cf. 67).
One should not ignore that white farm owners are often victims of violent crime as well. The high number of attacks by Blacks against them has worsened the interracial relations enormously. Sadly, because of a number of violent crimes perpetrated by Blacks, farmers started to become increasingly suspicious of Blacks in general (cf. 84). They have fear or, in cases when they were attacked or robbed by Blacks before, a desire for revenge, which in tragic cases has led to killings (cf. 84). To make matters worse, those who eventually execute violence (ordered by white farmers) against Blacks are sometimes themselves black, for example members of private security companies (cf. 109).
After the end of the Apartheid, the ANC’s goal was, as aforementioned, to redistribute land from rich Whites to poorer Blacks whose land had been taken from them decades ago. However, not only was the land reform’s pace very slow, but it also led to countless evictions without genuine reason (often accompanied by violence) against Blacks living on farms. This led to many of them having to leave, sometimes after having lived on the farm their whole life. This contributes to the fact that the land reform did not manage to satisfy many South Africans. (cf. 102-105)
It is necessary, however, to have a closer look at the aforementioned so-called “farm attacks”, where farm owners are attacked or robbed. There have been many killings in the past due to these farm and smallholding attacks and compared to other crimes, there has also been enormous media and political attention (cf. 139). Although both white and black farm owners have been victims of farm attacks, it is especially white farmers who live in fear and therefore possess guns (cf. 143). White South Africans even claim that farmers are victims of white “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing” under an oppressive, racist ANC regime (cf. Frankental/Sichone 247). As we see, today’s discourse about racism in South Africa is characterized by exaggeration and Whites trying to depict Blacks as those who are racist and who may potentially want a new Apartheid, this time against Whites, in the future. By denying this, one does not automatically ignore the existing problems of black violence against white farmers, but in order to reach reconciliation, unrealistic allegations about white genocide are not helpful. Everyone has to participate in the process towards a reconciliation, and this also includes the ANC. For example, controversial and provocative actions like singing the antiapartheid song Ayesaba Amagwala and the genocide phrase “kill the Boer” (‘kill the farmer’), as was done in 2010 by Julius Malewa, make the already difficult situation much worse and help white populists, the more so as there are also black farmers, although “Boer” usually refers to white Africans (cf. Hansen 290).
To conclude this introductory chapter about racial issues, it is necessary to emphasize that there are a multitude of reasons for the current situation. The aspects I presented in this chapter are only a small fraction of what causes racism in multi-ethnic South Africa. Obviously, we cannot ignore the past, but there are more things to consider than the redistribution of land. It would be wise to continually look for new information about racism in South Africa’s society and to think about possible ways to change the situation for the better. It is unjustifiable to say merely that the “Whites” or the “Blacks” are responsible for what is going wrong; every South African has to change his or her attitude and behaviour to make peace between people of different skin colours a realistic prospect. Unfortunately, South Africa is closer to an escalation than to peace, but nothing is lost yet. We should hope that one day, South Africa will have overcome the Apartheid’s consequences.
3. Sexual Orientation Issues
The data measuring violence and racial confrontations are shocking and leave one speechless. Nonetheless, one must focus on other issues as well, especially since there are, sadly, so many of them in South Africa. As stated in the introduction, I want to give an overview of the problems that people with different sexual orientations in South Africa have to face. These people who belong to the LGBTQ community cannot, unfortunately, live their lives the way heterosexual people can, although they should legally be able to, given that South Africa’s Constitution should help them. The truth is that in reality, LGBTQ people in South Africa do not always enjoy equal treatment, which demonstrates again that South Africa’s government has to do more to create an equal society, concerning both race and sexual orientation, amongst other things.
To those who are not that well-informed about South Africa and the situation regarding gay people, it might seem as if the country is the perfect place to live for anyone with a different sexual orientation. Same-sex marriage has already been legal for several years thanks to the Civil Union Act 17 of 2006. In the years prior to this, several judgements and legislative amendments had extended the rights for same-sex couples until South Africa finally became the first country outside Europe and North America, thus being the first in Africa, to legalize such same-sex partnerships. The Civil Union Act was a late consequence of the Constitution’s Section 9 of the Bill of Rights that was about guaranteeing equality and it was supposed to normalize the lives of homosexuals in South African society and to encourage them to be open about their sexual orientation. As Bonthuys and Erlank point out, however, same-sex couples will only exercise these legal rights depending on the extent to which society and different communities accept their lifestyles. Condemnation of LGBTQ people is often based on religious reasons, for example in the case of allegedly “intolerant” communities like Muslims. (cf. Bonthuys/Erlank 283-290)
Unsurprisingly, during the Apartheid, minorities had no legal protection. In fact, LGBTQ people were instead punished by law. While black South Africans hoped for racial equality through a constitution when the end of the Apartheid was being expected, there were also Whites who had hopes, namely gays and lesbians who needed protection and wanted freedom. When South Africa became the first country to explicitly protect the rights of homosexuals in 1996, it created a gap between law and society, due to the fact that at the time, a large number of its citizens did not support gay rights. It was frequently argued that South Africa was destroying family values and that being gay was morally wrong and an embarrassment. As we see, despite being modern in terms of its Constitution, South Africa could and still cannot be considered completely modern and tolerant in reality, although one must not forget that there are conservative people in every country, including those usually considered modern and tolerant. The task of convincing communities such as extremely “traditional” Muslims to give up their religion’s prevalent views is extremely complex and apparently, the Constitution until now has not had the power needed to make a significant change in large parts of South African society. For this reason, nation-building has not yet been fully successful.