SA must act now to crush the iceberg of inequality

Ideas

SA must act now to crush the iceberg of inequality

To avoid a fate worse than the US, the country needs to learn from events there and develop its people’s dignity

Abdi I Samatar

The daylight murder of George Floyd in a street in my hometown of Minneapolis shocked many who previously denied institutional racism in America. Young people across the world poured into the streets to register their revulsion and demand far-reaching reforms. But there are enough Americans and political leaders unmoved by these events. The muteness of this group reflects the reality of where America might be heading. What might be the lessons for SA?

America had two original sins that laid an enduring foundation for the dehumanisation of African and Native Americans. Access to land and political power determined people’s fates. Enslaved Africans in colonial America were denied ownership to this vital source of personal freedom and self-worth. In addition, their labour built the wealth of their white owners. Similarly, the native population was dispossessed of their continent and locked in reservations akin to SA’s bantustans. White America dumped natives in areas deemed worthless. Through the trail of tears, the Osage people were discarded in a hilly area of Oklahoma. Years later oil was discovered there and the Osage became the richest tribe in the world. As David Grann demonstrates in his 2018 book, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, whites would not allow this to stand, as they coveted the wealth, and began a systematic murder of the Osage.  

The white population used political power and security forces to maintain slavery, segregation, racism and marginalisation for almost 400 years. Those earlier political and economic foundations remained intact despite Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation, the reconstruction era, the civil rights movement and the rise of liberal America. Thus, American racism is a product of power and wealth inequality that goes back to the country’s founding...

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