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People, Way of Life

braaivleis, white suburbs, apartheid system, Afrikaners, shantytowns

The apartheid system left a profound imprint on South African society. Most whites enjoy a standard of living and way of life comparable to people in the world’s most developed countries. Distinctive features of this lifestyle include an emphasis on sports and open-air living, which reflect South Africa’s pleasant climate. Sports play a major role in schools. Rugby is particularly popular among Afrikaners, and South Africa hosted and won the rugby world championship in 1995. Cricket is popular among Afrikaners, English speakers, and increasingly among other groups as opportunities and facilities gradually improve. Swimming and water sports, tennis, and golf are all popular in the white community.

Affluent whites typically live in detached single-story homes with large gardens, often with swimming pools and sometimes tennis courts. The braaivleis (barbecue) is a popular way of entertaining. Food is essentially English, with a few distinctive Afrikaans dishes and some North American influences. The white South African lifestyle traditionally depended on servants to take care of the home, look after children, and tend the garden; many servants lived in small rooms on the employers’ property. This became less common after the end of apartheid as white incomes decreased, proportionately, and servants’ wages increased.

Wealthy Asians, Coloured people, and a small but growing minority of blacks have lifestyles similar to whites. For the great majority of South Africans, however, life is vastly different. Housing in the townships consists of mostly single-story dwellings, but houses are much closer together than in predominantly white suburbs. Barracklike hostels house single black men and migrant workers. An increasing number of urban blacks live in shantytowns around major cities with minimal facilities and long distances to travel to work and shops.

Recreational facilities are minimal in both townships and rural areas, but people play soccer wherever there is open ground. There are many churches, even in informal settlements, and they play an important role in social life. Township shebeens (unofficial drinking houses) take the place of pubs. Incomes restrict most blacks to a staple diet of mealies, or maize, which is made into a porridge, cheaper cuts of meat, some fruit, and vegetables. People commonly drink tea; beer, which is often home-brewed, especially in rural areas, is the main alcoholic drink.

Women are still more disadvantaged in South African society than in Europe or North America. The post-apartheid government is anxious to promote gender equality, but traditional attitudes are slow to change. Women from all ethnic and racial groups are involved in the labor market, although this often reflects economic necessity rather than preference.

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