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Apartheid: A lingering South African problem or an international fixation?

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Apartheid: A lingering South African problem or an international fixation?

South Africa has a long way to go to outgrow its troubling history, but perhaps social media is not the best place for this discourse to be happening.

It has now been almost three decades since South Africa held its first democratic all-races-included general election in 1994. And while South Africans will likely never be able to forget the country’s problematic past – it only really takes one quick scroll through TikTok, YouTube, or Instagram to realize that the rest of the world is struggling to move on too.

The problem with the Apartheid discourse on social media

It would be downright irresponsible to deny that the Apartheid regime’s horrible legacy continues to impact things like housing, voter trends and even the wealth gap, to this day.

But one thing that is certainly not helping modern-day South Africans who are trying their best to move forward is the online discourse about whether South Africa has moved past its racist history or not. Not to mention the fact that this discourse often does not involve any testimonies from actual South Africans.

South Africa on social media

There is nothing that draws South Africans of all races together quite like the comment section of an uninformed post. And there is simply no denying that for a country which only represents about 0.75% of the world’s population – South Africa seems to be part of the conversation a lot.

On TikTok alone, #SouthAfrica has amassed millions of posts, rivalling the totals of some of the world’s biggest countries and overshadowing some of the other African countries, as displayed below:

Hashtag Population Posts
#SouthAfrica Over 60 million 5.4 million
#UnitedStates Over 340 million 1.3 million
#UnitedKingdom Over 67 million 3 million
#Europe Over 741 million 8.4 million
#Australia Over 26 million 10.3 million
#Nigeria Over 227 million 3.8 million
#Ghana Over 34 million 1.7 million

Apartheid: A lingering South African problem or an international fixation?

Why South Africa is not necessarily the “most unequal” country in the world

Whenever the topic of South Africa and its inequality comes up, the fact that South Africa is one of “the most unequal” countries in the world, with a Gini coefficient of 63, will almost inevitably be mentioned in the conversation.

And while this is certainly a factor that should give all South Africans pause (and which has certainly repelled a few investors over the years), many sources fail to explain that this Gini coefficient, in very broad terms, simply measures income distribution and disparity – and does not take things like race into account. It is also probably worth mentioning at this point that this Gini coefficient was determined back in 2014. And besides, not every country in the world has a Gini coefficient, so it is quite unfair to call South Africa the “most unequal” when the list is still incomplete.

Racism is a worldwide problem

South Africa certainly has its issues (and most South Africans are reminded of these issues on a daily basis). However, South Africa is not the only country in the world that is still struggling to eradicate racism within its borders.

The UN International Independent Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in the Context of Law Enforcement found that systematic racism against people of African descent pervades America’s police forces and criminal justice system in 2023. Moreover, a 2022 survey of 6,752 people of African descent in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Sweden found that around 46% of the surveyed individuals experienced racial discrimination.

South Africans have more pressing problems

It is difficult to build bridges when the foundation is crumbling. And unfortunately for South Africans, the high unemployment rate, energy crisis and growing disillusion with service delivery makes it difficult for people to act with compassion and empathy.

Wave 5 of the NIDS data has shown that white South Africans are still largely overrepresented in the middle- and upper class. But, perhaps the more pressing issue at hand is that around 13,4 million South Africans are not economically active at all (not counting those who are discouraged from seeking employment).

So while people all over the world have the time and energy to ponder whether South Africa is actually still currently stuck in an Apartheid mindset, South Africans on the ground seem to be spending most of their time planning around load-shedding schedules, fuel price hikes, crime, and waiting in anticipation for the upcoming general election. At the end of the day, South Africans do not need to be  informed or reminded about the issues that have carried over from the Apartheid regime; they just want to know that there is hope for actionable plans to make the country better for everyone moving forward.