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South Africa’s Handling of Racism and Ethnic Relations: How They Compare With Those of the USA


Inequality and racism are one of the major challenges in both the US and South Africa and have hindered the development and the transformation of the economy in modern society. The social control policies and strategies used by these two countries especially in southern Africa have led to the key consequences i.e. discrimination, inequality, and poverty or poor living standards of the affected races. In the recent past both the Us and South Africa as made great progress in eliminating these ills, this is evident in the activities of both the human rights activists and the government legislations to fight these forms of discrimination (Dinnerstein, Reimers and Nicholas, 1979).

Overview of Racism and Ethnic Relations Issues in South Africa

The racism in South Africa was curtailing the rights of the majority Africans and the maintenance of the minority white population’s rights. This racial segregation began in colonial times and due to the existence of minerals in the country, the whites implemented these strategies. The strategies were in almost all sectors of the economy i.e. education, health care, and other public services. Apartheid contributed to sanctions in terms of foreign trade and internally it sparked resistance, violence, and unrest (Jagwath, 2000).

Ethical relations worsened after the 1984 general elections, which marked the beginning of segregation policies and strategies. This sparked inequality in all the racial segments i.e. black, white, and colored, and Indians. Some sections of the economy were set for the different races in South Africa and sometimes there were forceful evictions in the designated areas of South Africa.

Ethnic Inequalities or dimensions

Ethnic inequality was one of the main strategies of the apartheid government in South Africa to try and hold down the increasing pressure from both the internal and external forces. The division or segregation was mainly on the race, the racial groups included; black, white, colored, and Indians (Jagwath, 2000). All these groups had different living standards with the white having the best and Africans having the worst. The segregation was in the following forms;

  1. Geographical localities in which the parties were to reside, all the races in this each segment had their townships with different levels of economic and social development. The whites had the best facilities, education, geographical locations while the Africans liked concentration camps and slums.
  2. Freedoms and rights inequality; the racial segments had different rights in terms of political, human rights e.g. freedom of speech, etc.
  3. Resources; the sharing of resources was unequal, the majority i.e. black got the least share of the government’s national budget, and the mining revenues, and thus they lived the poorest lives in South Africa.
  4. The involvement in areas like politics, sports, decision making, management of government corporations, etc was restricted for only the white minority; it was total suppression of the rights of the blacks in their home country.
  5. Gender discrimination has also increased the discrimination on the part of the women, they were deprived and thus they suffered most in the struggle.

Ethnic stratification; majority and minority

Ethnic stratification was based on race, the minority were the whites who possessed the major stake in the economy and they were the proponents of apartheid. The whites had all the rights and imposed restrictions on the rights of the other groups in the country with the blacks having the least. The blacks were the majority and least beneficiaries of the economy in terms of allocations of resources. The voting rights were only for the whites until 1983 when the colored were given these rights; this shows that the majority were not having any say on the political and economic sectors and thus the minority imposed rules which exploited them.

Tools of dominance: prejudice and discrimination

Discrimination was the major tool of dominance; it spread to all the sectors of the society i.e. in property, leadership, decision making, interaction, geographical locations, denied assess to civic amenities, public facilities, shops, schools, etc and instead inferior services were given to them. Discriminative laws were imposed on all aspects of black South Africans social lives.

Prejudice was also used in the segregation, the perception that the blacks could not be able to make economic and political decisions persisted among the white minority and that the reason behind the restriction on these administrative areas. These preconceived judgments of the whites disillusioned them in the handling of the other races; they mistreated them and denied them their rights (Jagwath, 2000).

The pattern of ethnic relations


The white minority did not allow any form of assimilation, the whites used prejudice in the analysis of the black cultures and beliefs as uncivilized and thus interaction or the sharing of the cultures was not present in apartheid South Africa.


Pluralism in apartheid South Africa was unheard of since the different races had strong stands on their cultural beliefs and maintained their cultural identities. The black communities in southern Africa came together to fight for independence and this is the only area where the cultures could have interacted. In the townships, the different black communities were split into different locations to prevent any form of cooperation. Pluralism is still present in South Africa today.

Building of a New Society: Stability and Change

The first step was to address the discrimination and inequality, south African adopted a new constitution in 1996 two years after independence. The apartheid policies and legislations had to be reversed as fast as possible to and this was the major role of the post-apartheid government. The change in leadership had an impact on the international relation of South Africa with the UN, African Union, etc. The change in freedoms and rights were effectively dealt with but the major challenge of South Africa is to reduce and eliminate the effects of apartheid.

The changes in the laws and the policies of the government were designed to focus on the provision of equality and rights. The large difference in the development of the townships was alarming and thus the government formulated equality strategies in all sectors of the social lives of South Africans.

Racism and ethnic relations issues in South Africa and the United States

The US unlike South Africa had the majority suppressing the minority groups who in most cases were immigrants from Africa Americans, Mexico Americans, and Anglo-Americans. In the US state of Tennessee, the discriminative moves of the racial employment quota system and pay differential policies were evident (Dinnerstein and Reimers, 1999). The discriminative moves sparked racial tensions and hostilities in both countries. Both governments were obliged to formulate the strategies that advocated for fundamental rights and equality to all citizens, this was done in the reform strategies and policies implemented by both governments to counter these ills in the society. The concept of national cohesion and cooperation among the races are the main aims of these governments’ involvement in the social lives of their citizens.


  1. Dinnerstein, L., & Reimers, D. L. (1999). Ethnic Americans: A History of Immigration. (4th Ed.).
  2. Dinnerstein, L., Nichols, R. L., & Reimers, D. M. (1979). Natives and Strangers: Ethnic groups and the building of America.
  3. Jagwath, S. (2000). South Africa: Inequality Challenge. Africa Files.

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