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Struggles of the Poor in Post

Apartheid South Africa
SOCL 3310 Social Inequalities
Prospectus Paper

Kaylin Palavos

Professor: Kohler


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The apartheid era in South Africa was developed after World War II by the National
Party. It is characterized by a system of racial segregation enforced through legislation. The
National Party was the ruling party from 1948 to 1994 in which the rights of the majority were
pushed on the back burner, while the dominant power of the Whites was maintained. After the
apartheid era had supposedly ended, the continuous relocation of families was still prominent.
Maurice Makhatini, the acting executive director of housing, explained that the relocation
envisaged by the council was not apartheid: Apartheid was about grouping races; this proposal
is about grouping classes (pg.48). It suggests that those individuals or families of the same
economic background will live in similar areas and this method is racially blind. However, it
seems as though the people in similar economic brackets will be of the same race.
Therefore, this method is not racially blind and is simply an excuse that those in power
use to segregate individuals of a lower class standing. Since the Group Areas Act was put in
place, thousands of people were forced to move to the outskirts of Durban. One of the townships
was known as Chatsworth and was referred to as the promise land but when they arrived it
looked more like a stable. Mayor Osborne described this location as a promise land because,
it refers to the apartheid states promise of a better life in Chatsworth (pg.20). By relocating
individuals of lower income into these dilapidated housing units their standard of living and
living conditions rapidly worsened. For example, those at the top of the economic ladder are
filling up their swimming pools, while those at the bottom are getting their water disconnected
because they can no longer pay for it. Therefore, there is a linkage between economic and
political power in regards to economic inequality occurring in the townships in South Africa;
with the effects of globalization that can be best illustrated using the ruling class view.
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According to Hurst, the ruling class view proposes that, a small group of individuals
have inordinate political power in the society and that there are important interconnections
between economic and political institutions (Hurst, 2002). The political officials in South Africa
began to view poverty as a crime and evictions started to take place because the tenants could no
longer afford the rent since many textiles and footwear industries were closed and massive
amounts of job losses took place. In the chapter on working life: from rags to tatters, the focus is
on the number of unemployed individuals, both men and women that have gone from full time
work to short time and eventually unemployment. For instance, In the first six months of 1999
alone, just over ten thousand jobs were jettisoned in and around the city of Durban
(Desai, 2002). Among the people losing their jobs, the men were the first to go. Therefore many
families depended on the income of the wives to get by. This led to many problems such as
abuse and exploitation. As a result, many women chose to be single mothers to avoid the
continuation of abuse from their husbands, but continued to be exploited for their labor by the
factory owners. As wages and amount of work fell the cost of living soared and those at the top
saw financial gains while those at the bottom suffered drastically. G. William Domhoffs argues
that the rich corporate owners constitute a dominant class that largely controls the political
process (Domhoff, 1998). For instance, the ANC, or African National Congress, which seeks
out privatization and outsourcing of services to gain profits for the industry owners and look out
for the investments of the rich.
Although the ANC may not be rich corporate owners themselves, they are indebted on
a global level to corporate globalizers that are encouraged to maintain earnings. Consequently,
privatization occurs and prices swell in that market. The ANC planned to privatize as many of
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the councils services as possible (Desai, 2002). One of the main services provided in South
Africa where privatization has occurred would include that of electricity. Through privatization,
the council would be able to raise the price of electricity to outrageous amounts. In the township
of Soweto, people are already paying more for electricity in the dilapidated flat areas at 28 cents,
than those that live in the rich neighborhoods at 16 cents. Moreover individuals that are even
worse off in rural areas pay 48 cents while big businesses are only charged 7 cents a kilowatt a
unit (Mail and Guardian, April, 6, 2001). Trevor Ngwane, a newly elected member of the ANC,
(African National Congress) was in opposition of the privatization of services and was first
suspended from the ANC and ultimately kicked out entirely. Trevor Ngwane joined with
activists like Virginia Setshedi and Dudu Mphenyeke and began to organize against these
policies through an organization called the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee (Desai, 2002).
The committee focused on reconnecting the people of Sowetos electricity no matter how much
arrears they owed because they believed that everyone should have electricity especially since
the price for the service continued to skyrocket.
Hurst explains, The ruling-class view emphasizes the dominance of the economic
institution and position within it (Hurst, 2013). For instance, the African National Congress
focused on providing financial gains for the wealthy by privatizing services which would widen
the gap between those that have the means to survive and pay for their services and those that do
not. The members of the South African townships fell victim to the privatization of services
while the wealthy benefitted by receiving lower fees for services. Instead of taking from the rich
and giving to the poor the council and congress members were taking from the poor and giving
to the rich. For example, the poor individuals had their water and electricity shut off and taken
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away from them; whereas the wealthy were charged half if not less the price for the same type of
services. Essentially the poor cant afford to live and after already being relocated to various
townships in South Africa such as Chatsworth, Soweto, Westcliff, and Durban, they had no
choice but to move to even worse shanty-towns that had the same types of problems as every
other dilapidated area. As stated previously these problems are characterized by high costs of
living and minimal access to the basic necessities for survival such as clean water and shelter.
As people continued to move from bad to worse conditions the housing units became
similar if not worse than the time of the Apartheid. It grouped members of the same economic
bracket together and as a result segregating those of the same race in particular locations.
Although it was not classified as being characteristic of the apartheid time it was essentially the
exact same thing. Poor Indian and African individuals suffered with unemployment and the
disconnection of water and electricity. At a protest in Westcliff took place over housing units and
their terrible conditions the people of Westcliff came together to form a united front and stated,
We are not Indian nor African, we are the poors (Desai, 2002). By taking race out of the
equation it no longer became an Indian or African problem but instead became a humanities
issue which questioned the moral compass of those in power that would allow and even worsen
the conditions for the poor. White officials were elected to top positions with the promise of
making the poor peoples lives better, but with every election the conditions of and for the poor
never improved. By gaining political power the elected officials no longer were concerned with
the conditions of the poor but focused their abilities on making profits and catering to the
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Although the poor suffered from terrible living condition and unemployment it isnt to
say that they did not try and fight for their basic human rights. According to the ruling class
model, they view the bottom of the power structure to be able to organize and bring about
change in their society (Hurst, 2013). Many marches and protests along with evading evictions,
and the illegal reconnection of numerous families water and power they were able to celebrate
small victories in their local communities. With organizations like the SEDCC, Soweto
Electricity Crisis Committee, and the NAPFCC, National Anti-Privatization Forum Coordinating
Committee, they fight for the rights of the poor and do everything in their power to stop the
ANC, African National Congress, from privatizing such services as water, electricity, housing,
education, and healthcare. The people of Soweto propose, The ANC is trying to turn us, the
poor and working class, into criminals, while a small group of corrupt politicians have chosen to
spend money we need for basic services and jobs on a worthless arms deal (Desai, 2002). Since
failure to pay for housing and services was deemed illegal, individuals trying to work and make a
living to pay these high costs were considered criminals among those that are in charge. If they
did not pay criminal actions were taken against them and made it even more difficult for those of
lower socioeconomic status to pay. As fees continued to build up for unpaid rent, water, and
electricity the number of police presence also increased. This account of a family in Tafelsig
depicts the common occurrence of evictions and police brutality that took place all over the
dilapidated towns of South Africa:
That morning, October 17, 2000, the police came to evict the family of Charles
Lategan, in Olifantshoek Road, Tafelsig. This was not the first time that the
Lategan family was evicted: the sheriff had come before, but each time the family
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was removed from their house, members of the local community simply broke the
locks off the doors and moved them back in. So this time the sheriff was backed
up with force. Again, the community reacted-a crowd of people stood outside the
Lategan house, arguing with the police. Ashraf was prominent amongst them-a
loudmouth, in police terms-arguing about constitutional rights and so on. For that
he was targeted, knocked to the ground, and beaten (Desai, 2002).
A large police presence was a frequent occurrence and the call for the equipment of arms
for these individuals had increased. Since the evictions came with huge uproars from the
community members they increased the number of police and gave them weapons to bring about
fear in the community. When they explain that corrupt politicians waste money on arms deals
they are describing how politicians spend money in areas that benefit those of a higher
socioeconomic status. These arms deals are to equip their men with guns to ensure that they
enforce the rules in which they created and to intimidate others, so they will not speak out in
opposition. However these deals are useless to the poor people in South Africa. This illustrates
the ruling class view in that it holds true that the small group of individuals that hold an
enormous amount of power make all the decisions and preserve that their regulations be
maintained in the community. Those that compile the subordinate group have minimal power
and must abide by the laws put in place by the dominate group. Since those in high economic
and political statuses control the amount charged for the services, it results in a drastic increase
in the gap between the rich and the poor.

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Unfortunately the suffering of the poor is characterized in all nations as they move from
developing to developed with a common goal in mind which is to be able to compete on a global
level in the global market. For instance, many factories in the towns of South Africa had been
shut down because the work could be done by other nations for a cheaper price. The nation
paying for the commodity no longer chose the South African factories and thousands of people
lost their jobs which led to the downward spiral of the economic situation in South Africa. Since
their economic crisis stems from trying to compete in the global economy, the lax labor
standards in order to remain competitive in the free-market can be especially problematic. Some
of the problems were that workers would labor for extremely long hours without breaks and
often worked multiple jobs to earn a living. Given that workers werent paid for over time they
were exploited for their labor by the factory owners which needed them to produce in order to
sell the products at a low rate. In theory, globalization envisions the global market and exchange
as being beneficial to the economic fortunes of all nations involved. According to Hurst, the
supposed result is a reduction of poverty, and a decline in inequality between nations (Hurst,
2002). On the other hand it has been argued that globalization has a negative effect on the
inequality of nations. As we see in the book by Desai, people are being forced to move, have
enormous amount of arrears or debts that are due and they suffer from evictions as well as
disconnections of the basic necessities of life.
Globalization plays a big role when it comes to the labor structure of the economy in
South Africa and can lead to exploitation of developing countries through cheap labor. Since
developed or industrial countries have the means, in the amount of money a nation contains, is
used to control the global markets. The developed nations hold most, if not all, the power in the
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global market and by outsourcing their labor they can produce mass amounts of commodities at
extremely low rates. Therefore, the developed country is able to bring its people low prices on
certain items that are mass produced while still making a huge profit because the price of labor is
much lower than what it would cost them to produce internally. As a result the developed nations
are exploiting labor from developing countries to benefit their own nation. Globalization is
characterized as both nations profiting from an agreement however; it seems as though the only
ones profiting are the leaders at the top while the laborers or workers suffer from lenient labor
laws and regulations in addition to earning tremendously low wages.
The state of affairs that is associated with a small group of people holding an enormous
amount of power is a common occurrence in all nations. It is characteristic of the ruling class
theory in that the ruling class consists of individuals at the top one percent of the nation that have
high socioeconomic status and are able to control the people and the regulations in a society. In
the South African townships those in control were disregarding the needs of the people in a
lower socioeconomic group who needed the most help. The people in towns like Soweto and
Chatsworth were unable to achieve a better standard of living because there was minimal
employment because the factories were closing down and global leaders were taking their
business elsewhere for other nations to manufacture. As a result the townships in South Africa
were failing to compete in the global economy in the free market, and consequently nations took
their business elsewhere. Although there are mixed findings in whether globalization helps or
hurts certain nations, I think it is safe to say that it negatively affected the people in South Africa.

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Overall, the ruling class model suggests that those in power can maintain their interest
and involvement in decision making and politics because they have an excessive effect on the
political process and have the power to shape policies that fit their own wants or needs rather
than those of the majority. As a result, they further the gap between them and the poor. While the
rich get richer the poor get poorer. In South Africa the poor people continued to suffer from
terrible living conditions with no water, electricity and tremendous amounts of unemployment.
By moving them to certain areas and charging them ridiculous amount of money for basic
necessities than can insure that they will remain poor and out of sight of the rich. By out of site
Im suggesting that as people become poorer they have no choice but to move from bad to worse
housing developments that are dilapidated and dangerous to live in. Therefore the poor would
move farther and farther away from wealthy homes due to excessive evictions and relocations
that separated them from the wealthy. As a result the wealthy would very rarely come in contact
or in sight of the poor and the conditions in which they were living in.
By separating those who have with the individuals that do not they were turning a blind
eye to the harsh treatments experienced by the poor in South Africa. Since those in the
subordinate class are subjected to regulations by the ruling class they have little to no political
power. In addition, political power and who was selected as an official was determined by the
rich on the basis of who had their best interests in mind. After the apartheid people thought that
life in South Africa would get better but in reality it continued to worsen do in part by the free-
market and globalization. The people of South Africa were expected to have lax labor standards
to ensure their ability to remain competitive in the global economy. Those officials in power
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favored globalization and they continue to favor it as another way to maintain power in their
local economy.
Globalization can impact a nations economic inequality. According to Hurst, When it
comes to levels of income inequality, generally countries lower in living standards by UN
measures have levels that exceed those in industrial nations; included among the most unequal
are many African nations (Hurst, 2002). This was true for the poor people in the townships of
South Africa. Therefore, the economic gap is greater between the rich and the poor and
organizations like the African National Congress try to keep it that way by enforcing certain
regulations along with fee increases on housing for the poor.
In the Durban Social Forum Declaration the members state, recently, we have come to
understand more about the global village (Desai, 2002). This statement suggests that the
global market does not benefit everyone in the country, but only those that make the deals in the
international market. Consequently, globalization impacts the people of the nation and the
declaration goes on to say that they apologize to the people of many nations and, every other
place in our world where injustice is perpetuated while the leaders of our country keep
conveniently quiet, or even support your oppressors (Desai, 2002). As a result, people in lower
economic brackets in South Africa continue to suffer and live without basic necessities while the
ruling class maintains control through economic and political power.

Works Cited

Desai, Ashwin. We are the Poors: Community Struggles in Post-Apartheid South Africa. New
York: Monthly Review Press, 2002. Print.

Hurst, Charles E. Social Inequality: Forms, Causes, and Consequences. Boston: Pearson, 2013.