JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Blatant racism and inequality are a drag on Africa’s most advanced economy, the head of Standard Bank, one South Africa’s biggest banks, said on Wednesday, waging into a fierce debate about post-apartheid affirmative action.
CEO Sim Tshabalala’s comments in a note to his staff follow the suspension of white Standard Bank economist Chris Hart, who last week tweeted about “a sense of entitlement and hatred towards minorities”. The tweet prompted mostly black youths to stage a protest march to the bank’s offices in downtown Johannesburg.
“Black South Africans are in fact fully entitled to a decent quality of life and to redress for apartheid. To suggest that this means that they are ‘entitled’ in the negative sense is simply wrong and often amounts to racism,” Tshabalala said in the note published on the Rand Daily Mail’s website.
Two decades after the end of white minority rule, wealth and income gaps are still clearly visible along racial lines and perceptions of white privilege loom large.
South Africa’s annual economic growth has languished below 2 percent for the past five years in a downturn resulting mainly from poor governance, raising racial tensions that have played out on social media since the start of the year.
At least two white South Africans have been fired from their jobs this week for using racial slurs in public, according to local media reports.
Tshabalala listed the country’s strengths - resources, world-class companies, infrastructure and workers. “However, each of these sources of competitive advantage is badly eroded by incomplete transformation and by racism,” he said.
Heightening racial tensions, pro-white South African rights group Afriforum on Wednesday pledged support for four white farmers accused of murdering two black men.
Afriforum, which often represents white South Africans on issues such as affirmative action, said it would raise funds for the four defendants and pay their legal fees.
Reporting by TJ Strydom; editing by Susan Thomas