For Mixed-Race South Africans -- Equity Is Elusive -- by Lydia Polgreen CAPE TOWN , South Africa— When the man from the African National Congress came
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, Mar 10 6:51 PM
South Africans --
Equity Is Elusive -- by Lydia Polgreen
CAPE TOWN , South Africa
When the man from the African National Congress came looking for votes in 1994, Mohammed Khan says he listened carefully.
The man promised jobs, better schools and new houses for the hundreds of thousands of people crammed into the Cape Flats , the sprawling townships built by the apartheid government.
Most important, Mr. Khan recalls, the man said that in the new South Africa, people of Mixed Race, known ... as `Coloreds', would [become] full and equal citizens.
To someone like Mr. Khan, who had lived only as a second-class citizen, derided as the progeny of forbidden racial mixing, uprooted from his neighborhood in Cape Town as a little boy and sent to live in a distant ghetto to make room for White people, it was a powerful message.
"We were all going to be South Africans now, not 'Colored', not 'Black', not 'White', just South Africans," said Mr. Khan, 43, an unemployed laborer who lives in Netreg, a few miles from Table Mountain.
Mr. Khan was convinced; he cast his ballot for Nelson Mandela.
"We were all going to have a better life together," he said.
Nearly 10 years after Mr. Mandela became South Africa 's first 'Black' president, Mr. Khan still does not have a job.
He collects scrap metal on a horse-drawn cart to feed his family.
His parents still live next door in a two-room cinder-block house, with 18 other relatives living in shacks in the backyard with the horses and chickens.
Worst of all, he feels that people of Mixed-Race are still caught in the middle of South Africa 's rainbow.
" It is still `Colored' people who are stuck in the middle, and no one cares about us "
People of Mixed-Race are not the only ones disappointed; people in all racial groups have felt the shocks and pangs of South Africa's slow and painful progress from authoritarian, racist-rule to multicultural-democracy.
Unemployment, crime and the scourge of AIDS -- afflicts all South Africans to varying degrees.
But among the Mixed-Race residents of the Cape Flats -- where poverty and unemployment help push young men into violent street gangs, and where life seems to have gotten harder since apartheid's end -- many people say they feel there is no place for them in the new South Africa ...
In a country whose history is usually simplified into a struggle between a 'White' minority and a 'Black' majority, the four million people known as `Coloreds' are often little more than a footnote
Yet people of Mixed-Race have always been central to the nation's history, and today they form an important and hotly contested voting bloc, especially for the largely White opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, which seeks their support as a bulwark against the powerful African National Congress.
During apartheid, people of Mixed-Race were granted a slightly higher status than 'Blacks': they had marginally better schools and housing, and did not have to carry passes to enter 'White' areas, as 'Black' people did.
[In] the Western Cape , Mixed-Race people could get skilled blue-collar jobs that paid better than the menial ones open to 'Black' people.
They were uprooted from their homes and banished from White areas -- but were not sent to distant homelands, like the so-called bantustans created for 'Black' people under apartheid.
Most people of Mixed -Race spoke Afrikaans, which linked them culturally to the ruling elite.
But that "thread of privilege" came at a price.
The Population Registration Act, which codified racial categories under apartheid, put non-Whites in a crude hierarchy, using "a variety of humiliating methods to determine race".
Perhaps the most absurd was `the pencil test', in which a 'White' bureaucrat would put a pencil into the hair of a person whose racial origin was uncertain. If the pencil fell out, the person was `White'. If it stayed put, the person was `Colored'.
These indignities created a deep antipathy to apartheid; indeed, the Mixed-Race community of the Western Cape was central to a powerful and important anti-apartheid movement, the United Democratic Front.
But the apartheid government also went to great lengths to patronize and demoralize people of Mixed-Race -- building a system of dependence through social welfare and sowing fear and contempt of 'Black' people.
In the dream of a nonracial South Africa , Mixed-Race people were to become simply South Africans, no longer burdened with "the inhuman probing of their identity".
But their status today illustrates just how difficult the task of creating `a non-racial identity' has been.
"We all thought that after 1994, the whole notion of `Colored' would just disappear," said Trevor Oosterwyk, a political writer and historian who grew up in the Cape Flats and was active in the anti-apartheid struggle.
"But it did not disappear; if anything it reasserted itself in the form of `Colored' Nationalism.
And now `Colored' people are struggling to figure out precisely where they fit in."
Of course, there are people of Mixed-Race who have fit into the new South Africa just fine.
They hold high positions in government and business, and new educational and career opportunities are helping many break into the middle class.
But Robert Mattes, a professor of political science at the University of Cape Town who led a survey published last year on political attitudes, said that of all racial groups, `Colored' people were the most pessimistic about the country's future as a peaceful and prosperous multiracial nation.
In some ways, people of Mixed-Race had the most to lose with the end of apartheid.
The 'White' ruling elite kept its wealth even as it relinquished political control.
Mixed-race people, [were] never allowed the tools to accumulate [the] wealth that now must be spread among 44 million people