Hardship deepens for South Africa’s Poor Whites

March 26, 2010

Children walk through a squatter camp for poor white South Africans at Coronation Park in Krugersdorp, March 6, 2010. REUTERS/Finbarr O’Reilly

Sitting in a deck chair at a white South African squatter camp, Ann le Roux, 60, holds a yellowing photo from her daughter’s wedding day.

Taken not long after Nelson Mandela became the country’s first black president in 1994, it shows Le Roux standing with her Afrikaans husband and their daughter outside their home in Melville, an upmarket Johannesburg neighborhood.

Sixteen years later, she lives in a caravan and a tent shared with seven other people, including her daughter and four grandchildren, at a squatter camp for poor white South Africans.

She is one of a growing number of whites living below the poverty line in South Africa who blame affirmative action and the ANC-led elected government for their plight.

Le Roux had to sell her house after her husband died and she lost her job as a secretary at the city planning council — where she had worked for 26 years — after she took time off work to recover from the loss of her husband.

“They wouldn’t take me back because of the political situation,” she says, looking down at the fading photo.

“Our color here is not the right color now in South Africa,” Le Roux says, echoing the complaint of many impoverished whites, mostly Afrikaners who are descendants of early Dutch and French settlers.

While most white South Africans still enjoy lives of privilege and relative wealth, the number of poor whites has risen steadily over the past 15 years. White unemployment nearly doubled between 1995 and 2005, according to the country’s Institute for Security Studies.

Music by 20-year-old Ewald Spence, recorded at Coronation Park.

Seeking to reverse decades of racial inequality, the ruling ANC government introduced affirmative action laws that promote employment for blacks and aim to give black South Africans a bigger slice of the economy. This shift in racial hiring practices coupled with the fallout from the global financial crisis means many poor white South Africans have fallen on hard times.

At least 450,000 white South Africans, 10 percent of the total white population, live below the poverty line and 100,000 are struggling just to survive, according to civil organisations and largely white trade union Solidarity. South Africa’s population is about 50 million.

Many poor whites have ended up in places like Coronation Park, in Krugersdorp west of Johannesburg, a leafy former caravan site beside a water reservoir and a public picnic park frequented by middle-class families at weekends.

Children play on a tire being used to block the entrance to a squatter camp for poor white South Africans at Coronation Park in Krugersdorp, March 6, 2010. REUTERS/Finbarr O’Reilly

Ringed by yellow-brown hills of earth dug up by generations of gold miners, the park was used by the British as a concentration camp for Afrikaners during the Anglo-Boer war at the start of the 20th century. Now it’s home to some 400 white squatters living in cramped tents and caravans and sharing a single ablution block. Cats and dogs roam noisily through the camp, dodging heaps of rubbish, piles of scrap metal and abandoned car parts.

Water is heated and food cooked on open camp fires. The local council cut electricity to the camp after failing to evict the white squatters. The council wanted to develop the area into a wide screen viewing area for soccer matches ahead of the soccer World Cup, which South Africa hosts in June and July.

Some residents, including three black South Africans, have lived there for years. Others arrived in recent weeks.

“If you’re out of work and you haven’t got money, where must you go to? No one wants to help you — this is the only place to go to,” says Dennis Boshoff, 38.

Friends talk through the window of a one-room hut at a squatter camp for poor white South Africans at Coronation Park in Krugersdorp, March 6, 2010. REUTERS/Finbarr O’Reilly

South African President Jacob Zuma visited a white squatter camp near the capital Pretoria last year ahead of his election, saying he was “shocked and surprised”.

“The vast number in black poverty does not mean we must ignore white poverty, which is becoming an embarrassment to talk about,” Zuma said at the time.

White poverty in South Africa is a politically sensitive subject that gets little attention, but it is not new.

Under apartheid, introduced in 1948, whites enjoyed vast protection and sheltered employment. The weakest and least educated whites were protected by the civil service and state-owned industries operating as job-creation schemes, guaranteeing even the poorest whites a home and livelihood.

Lukas Gouws, 29, smokes at a squatter camp for poor white South Africans at Coronation Park in Krugersdorp, March 6, 2010. REUTERS/Finbarr O’Reilly

But with that economic safety net now gone, South Africa’s unskilled whites find themselves on the wrong side of history, gaining little sympathy from those who perceive them as having profited unfairly during the brutal apartheid years.

Trade union Solidarity says there are around 430,000 whites who live in squatter camps. Around the capital Pretoria alone there are 80 squatter settlements. There are over 2,000 much larger black squatter camps across South Africa.

Lukas Gouws tells off a boy for digging up snakes at a squatter camp for poor white South Africans at Coronation Park in Krugersdorp, March 6, 2010. REUTERS/Finbarr O’Reilly

Formerly comfortable Afrikaners recently forced to live on the fringes of society see themselves as victims of “reverse-apartheid” that they say puts them at an even greater disadvantage than the millions of poor black South Africans.

A family smokes together during a quiet moment at a squatter camp for poor white South Africans at Coronation Park in Krugersdorp, March 13, 2010. REUTERS/Finbarr O’Reilly

“Blacks get more than whites at the moment. They’re being pulled forward against us. That’s why all of us are here. It’s very unfair because they told us it was going to be equal, but it’s not equal,” said Boshoff.

This feeling of victimisation and abandonment by the state has forged at the camp a collective sense of fatalism, isolation and firm reliance on their Calvinist religion. Each of the camp’s ramshackle huts and tents is adorned with religious paraphernalia and an Afrikaans language bible.

Many poor white communities also struggle with alcoholism, violence and abuse but at Coronation Park, social problems have declined. “We kicked a lot of the worst ones out and the fighting and violence has gone down,” said Hugo Van Niekerk, who has managed the camp over the past few years.

Van Niekerk, who solicits donations and helps community members find odd jobs, successfully fought an eviction order last year from the local municipality but he expects little help from the council or government on housing.

“We won’t get houses from this government. If we were black maybe yes, but we are white.”

Andre Coetzee, 57, drinks a mug of coffee at a squatter camp for poor white South Africans at Coronation Park in Krugersdorp, March 6, 2010. REUTERS/Finbarr O’Reilly

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When reading the ANC manifesto it is clearly stated that discrimination will go, and all South Africans will enjoy the new South Africa irrespective of race color or creed. But like they do in all of Africa, what is written on paper or agreed upon holds little water. Africans do what Africans do as we see in Zimbabwe where its in total ruins.
The pendulum has not come to rest as we all hoped it would, but has swung to the other side of Apartheid into a new Black on White Apartheid, called Affirmative Action. This situation will unfortunately spark another race war in this region as we see its beginning, and so the cycle will go around again.
Thanks to all those heretics and hypocrites who were against the previous SA government, you certainly have done a good job is destroying a wonderful country. The baby should never have been thrown out with the dirty bath water.

Posted by Truth_Exposed | Report as abusive

I am a local resident (close to Coronation Park) and what really concerns me is the persistent rumours of mismanagement in the park and donations given that are available to only a select few in the park. A friend of mine (while taking in a bakkie load of groceries)was warned by an old lady that the goods are sold and they get none of it. He then proceeded to hand out the groceries personally and was accosted by the woman in charge and warned that it was “against the rules.” He ignored her (luckily for him he’s a big fella, for I believe she’s put a couple of people in hospital!)and personally handed out the donations. Then there is also the story of excess clothes being burned. Obviously there is more than just one or two organisations helping out, hence the excess.My question is this: If there is excess, why are the people begging on the street corners? No doubt there is a habit a two that needs supporting, but the volume of people on the streets in both Roodepoort and Krugersdorp is staggering. Access to the camp by civilians is also strictly controlled by “management”. And then there are a couple of welfare organisations that have been denied not only access by “management”, but they have also been barred from helping. I truly think, for the sake of the needy in this camp, that there should be a thorough investigation into the affairs at the camp. I’d hate to think that there are a select few who would stoop to enrich themselves on the backs of the already needy!

Posted by Toktokkie | Report as abusive

Well to be honest you whites will not get much sympathy from me!
The comments on here prove what you really think of the black population, so why should they care what your people are going through.
The reason your forefathers left Europe was because of the persecution and starvation they faced in their own lands.
Not all of Europe was successful, Ireland was definately seen as backwards or undeveloped, and so were other countries.
As for the invention of the wheel well that never happened in Europe either. Brick house weren’t either afterall the pyramids were built from bricks in AFRICA!!. The southern Europeans IE Romans Greeks were doing 10 times better than the northern Europeans and it was the Romans that brought the wheel to England/northern Europe aswell as proper roads and brick houses the archeaologist have proven that because there are no signs of developments before the roman remains in England and that is a fact, the Dutch were not much better off either, but all white people claim these developments as there own now when a small part of Europe taught the rest of Europe. 100 years you didn’t even consider these people as white but now you do to claim their history.
The comment about 1.5 million blacks in southern Africa when the white man arrived, well there was not many more people in England back then either.
Everything that your ancestors found in Africa they destroyed or claimed were created by previous visitors IE the Benin bronzes were left by Europeans or the Chinese.
You couldn’t destroy the Pyramids so you claimed they were built by aliens, yes ALIENS!!!
You fill Isreal with white European jew converts so you could claim the biblical stories and paint Jesus as a white man, and therefore make god into a white man.
So if I cant use the computer due to the fact that the white man invented it, then you should not use your cars because the mediteranean people created the wheel and the middle easterners knew how to make use of oil( you were on steam power and coal.

Posted by rewdy41 | Report as abusive

I would like to emphasise the international influence on conditions in South Africa. Being rich in platinum, gold and diamonds amongst other resources, South Africa has become just yet another country to exploit. People pulling the real strings have no emotion toward murder and conflict as long as they can get what they want out of it by doing dealings with corrupt politicians, in fact as seen in other parts of Africa, such conditions provide an easier way to get hold of these resources.

The media which is controlled by these people will play along. The solution to this problem in my opinion is for South African home owners and land owners to conglomerate in their given areas, collectively they will find they own a large suburban area or farming area.

With a large area as mentioned there is more leverage to negotiate with foreign businesses. For instance in a suburban town, collectively, business property and suburban property owned by these groups might amount to 60% of the total town. In turn for these companies to invest in education and schools and medical centres business growth etc, these ‘micro economies’ would then cede a percentage of the total gross income of these economies and possible a small percentage of the land ownership…thereby receiving funding from a non governmental source in exchange for private ownership and still enjoying governmental obligations to the area but not reliant on them.

This concept would work even better with regards to farms where as a conglomerate could the afford tighter security. Strength in numbers. I havent thought of the nitty gritties and this and thats about it but as a defined concept I feel it could work and would uplift these communities which could later pay attention to less fortunate communities.

Posted by phantomstar | Report as abusive

South Africa seriously needs to consider doing something about the predicament of its White South Africans, as the economic output of the country is suffering from the discrimination against these people. They should be identified as a separate ethnic group with their own culture and they should be allowed to collect together to form a small White home land as a separate province with in the country of South Africa where White South Africans can go and live if they so choose. This small province would be allowed to build its own universities and schools. It could even have its own trailer parks for poor whites. This state will have seats in the South African parliament but will have control of its own borders within South Africa. It would start off with say 20,000 and grow to say 200,000 people.

Posted by JoeF123 | Report as abusive

As a response to the post from rewdy41.

The pyramids were built using slave labour as far as I know with little or no regard as to the well being of the labourers. This I believe is what the Africans of Africa are compaining about. Now you are claiming this to be achievements of your nation. Well if this is so then history is certainly repeating itself, over and over and over again. When are people going to learn that it benefits the govermnents in power when its people are fighting one another instead of looking at what is actually taking place. Do you honestly believe that the current regime actually give a hoot about the poor black, white or pink people. As long as they can keep you fighting with one another they can keep on pilfering and lining their own pockets. So what if you live in a shack or a mansion. The main objective is to keep you busy while they take it all. Just look to Zimbabwe to see a typical example of what I am saying. The country has an amazing potential but is being manipulated by politicians still blaming the British and colonialism for their problems. The fact of the matter is that if the people of Zimbabwe had worked together the country would now be an amazing success. Thanks to the political bulldust the country is in complete dis-array. Blacks blaming whites, whites blaming blacks, and politicians milking the system. Sound familair? It is about time that the people of our country start realizing that they are being played like porns in a chess match. White or Black should not be the question. The question should be why should anyone have to live a life like this? Surely we can do better. If you are looking at skin colour as means to determine what should and should not be allowed then you my friend are also a racist, maybe from the opposit camp but a racist non the less. So perhaps you should have some sympathy for those that are less fortunate than yourself irrespective of their skin colour as they are victims of a system that doesn,t really care as long as they blaming anyone but the system. South Africans wake up!! We are being played. Look forward and go forward. We only have ourselves to blame for the problems in our future.

Posted by BandW | Report as abusive

@ rewdy41.

Your response is the exact image of what the previous comments were saying; this just proves that with the new south africa comes just another new attitude. The persecution and starvation they found in their own lands? It was the age of discovery! Your speaking like your barely educated.

I quote

“You fill Isreal with white European jew converts so you could claim the biblical stories and paint Jesus as a white man, and therefore make god into a white man.”

Jesus was a dark palestinian at the time and therefore was not white, acknowledged. European Jew converts? The Jewish population in Israel fled from their European countries because of persecution and at no time were given the chance to convert because the ruling authorities wanted to class them as Jewish.

But this convert idea is nonsense, for pitty sake the war with the palestinians is because of religion; they would not let themselves be converted by another.

Try reading a history book or two before you start judging and abusing it.

Posted by feacesdump1 | Report as abusive

In order to lessen racial tensions, maybe America could trade her black people here for the whites in South Africa. That way, the blacks could return to their homeland in Africa and the SA whites could live here in America with more people of European descent.

Posted by dougiex | Report as abusive

this shows that whites without stealing,or cheating on africans are just some poor weak chimps

Posted by kelvud | Report as abusive

Rewdy 41 comments; you have shown yourself to be racist against white people; you should be ashamed of yourself; i have relatives in south africa whom i know have suffered; the fact is, no one, white, Black, Brown or Blue should have to live in conditions like this in this day and age. If you have such a great president and if Mandella was such a great president why are there still townships, full of poverty, crime and terrible conditions and why are both Black & Whites living like this. And dont even go there when it comes to white farmers being slaughtered by Blacks.

Posted by agnetha | Report as abusive

@true global,
The American and Australian whites decimated the native populations in their countries. The whites who went to Africa actually tried to live alongside the native population there. I believe this is because they were mainly dutch who were liberal for their times. The Dutch saw the black people as someone who needed their superior Dutch help (racist i know). the Irish, British, French and Spanish who went to the America’s saw the native people as pests, in the way and backwards. they tried everything to get rid of them, made up reasons to push them south and into another part of America. The Spanish pushed theirs upwards. Thats why USA, Argentina and chili have so few Natives. Those countries are now run with western values and law.

Posted by brumod | Report as abusive

This is a sad state of affairs and one that cannot be solved overnight.

Posted by homeland | Report as abusive