Apartheid in South Africa

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Apartheid in South Africa

The government policy of Apartheid in South Africa was one of the most discussed issues of the twentieth century. But few people realize that not only was Apartheid an example of political injustice, but it was also one of the most glaring examples of environmental injustice the world has seen.
Under the Land Act of 1913, the white descendants of Dutch settlers claimed 87 per cent of South Africa's land, relegating blacks to so-called "homelands." By design, these lands were the least fertile in the country and today are almost totally degraded. This racist policy has doomed South Africa's ecology. In the Ciskei homeland, 46 per cent of the land is eroded and 39 per cent is overgrazed. Fifty years ago, KwaZulu had 250 distinct woodlands; today only 50. These are just a few examples of ecological decline in South Africa, of which there are four main causes.
The first cause is that the homelands are situated in fragile environments to begin with. Another main cause is the forced overpopulation caused by Apartheid. More than half of South Africa's 29 million blacks live in the homelands, covering 13 per cent of the land. Blacks were forbidden to leave the homelands and over the years, whites have pushed an additional 3.5 million blacks in. Blacks in the homelands also had extremely high birthrates because a large family wass seen as a means of economic security. White areas are one-tenth as heavily populated as black areas.
Another main cause for the ecological disaster in South Africa is a labor shortage. White employers easily exploited the destitute black labor force in the homelands. Most of the residents of the homelands are the young, old, and infirm; as those of working age crammed into filthy buses for long commutes hundreds of miles from home.
The final cause is poverty itself. Blacks in the homelands make one-sixteenth the white average and 80 per cent live below the poverty line. These people simply cannot afford to buy fencing to control grazing, hire laborers to help terrace sloping fields, or invest in tree planting to conserve soil and water.
The end of Apartheid has signaled new hope for the people of the homelands. Blacks and whites have come together under the banner of Earthlife Africa, the first nationwide environmental group, to try to improve ecological conditions. But it will be a long time, if ever, before the environmental injustice and destruction caused by Apartheid can be repaired.

Source: Alan B. Durning. "Apartheid's Other Injustice." World Watch, May/June 1990.

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