By Olley Maruma

The legacy of 350 years of apartheid and 50 years of concerted apartheid policies created racial disparities in South Africa's socio-economic structures and fabric that were larger than those of any other nation in the world.

Reversing the damage inflicted on South African society by this legacy of sustained racist injustice will take a Herculean human effort and many years of sustained transformation and restructuring of the country's economy to get anywhere near achieving equity.

It is therefore very puzzling why many in the mainstream white South African media and some in the opposition media in Zimbabwe were making fantasist predictions about how, during his official visit to Zimbabwe to open the Harare Agricultural Show, President Jacob Zuma was expected to "get tough with Mugabe," and to do the bidding of a powerful white elite that tried to scupper his bid for the presidency in South Africa and are still behaving as though white rule is still alive.

With the near impossible task that faces his leadership as he tries to roll back the negative effects of apartheid, why would Zuma wish to collaborate with unrepentant former racists and avowed imperialists in his new position?

The unpalatable truth about southern Africa is that the racial dynamics of its politics have not changed much from those of the period before apartheid because the economic foundations of that society still underpin the economic and social relations of the region today.

Up to today, whites in South Africa, who constitute 11 percent of its 45 million population, enjoy levels of education, occupational status and income levels similar to and many respects superior to those of the industrially developed nations of Europe and the British Diaspora.

They still occupy 67 percent of the top executive positions in the country's economy, while black men and women occupy 10 percent and 3 percent respectively. Many of the black executives are token blacks with no power who are put in their positions for window dressing.

A small minority made up of white immigrants from Europe largely dominated the non-white majority in South Africa since the 17th century until a non-racial elective democracy was ushered into the country in 1994.

This does not mean that there are no social schisms amongst the whites, for there is a sharp distinction between English speakers of Anglo-Saxon origin, who amount to a third of the white population and the two thirds of Afrikaner origin.

Despite affirmative action policies designed by Nationalist Afrikaner governments after winning power in 1948 to explicitly improve the lot of the Afrikaners at the expense of non-whites in general, there is still a difference in the socio-economic positions of the two groups.

South Africa's four official racial groups are "Whites 11percent according to the 1996 census, Asians three percent Coloureds 9 percent and Blacks 77 percent. Most of South Africa's Coloured population was formed from unions between Afrikaners and various Black and Asian populations, especially in the Cape Province. Not surprisingly, many of the Coloureds speak Afrikaans as their native tongue and they are culturally similar to the Afrikaners.

Among the blacks, the Zulus and the Xhosas are the biggest ethnic groups, with the Zulus being the biggest group with 30 percent and the Xhosas 22 percent of the population.

In the 1970s and 1980s, South Africa was flooded by white immigrants from neighbouring countries who were fleeing from black rule after independence.

For example, the country has a large visible Portuguese community consisting mainly of those who left Portuguese territories like Angola and Mozambique after black independence from white colonial rule.

It also has a large population of white Rhodesians who left Zimbabwe after independence because they did not like black rule, many of whom hold powerful and influential positions in society, including the judiciary.

In 1996, non white men, who together constituted 81 percent of the labour force, on average earned 23 percent of what white men earned up from 19 percent in 1991 and 15 percent in 1980.

So at the inception of majority rule, racial differences in South Africa were far larger than in other multiethnic countries. For example, in the US, black males in 2000 earned on

average about 67 percent of what non-Hispanic white males earned. In Israel, Arabs in 1983 earned 63 percent of what Jews earned.

Under the apartheid system, it was the Coloureds and the Blacks who bore the brunt of apartheid's racist policies.

It is interesting to note that until a few years ago, the only groups with substantial immigration into South Africa from foreign countries were English speaking whites plus a small fraction of "other Whites." The largest group of foreign born English speakers in South Africa is from England and the bulk of the remainder form Anglophone African nations, mainly Zimbabwe.

With limited exceptions, blacks from other African countries have not been permitted to immigrate to South Africa in large numbers. South Africa's black immigration figures from neighbouring countries are not included in its official figures because of its long-standing labour immigration arrangements which attract labourers primarily from Malawi, Lesotho and Mozambique to work in the country's farms and mines.

When it comes to education, the social minimum for whites is at least some secondary schooling. This is not the case for non-whites in general. A study done some years ago showed that nearly 20 percent of blacks had no schooling and more than half had no more than primary schooling below the social minimum for whites. Indeed, whereas 30 percent of whites had some tertiary education, a fraction comparable to those in developed countries such as the US, Israel, Japan and Taiwan. Whereas more than 10 percent of the whites had a B.A. degree or better, only 3 percent of Blacks had any tertiary education at all and less than 1 percent had a B.A. or better.

These huge disparities reflect a legacy of subsidizing white education while minimizing educational opportunities for non-whites, especially the blacks. If South Africa's new Minister of Education, Blade Nzimande, who is also the leader of the Communist Party, is going to reverse these trends, he has his work cut out.

Recently, the Bureau of Market Research at the University of South Africa (Unisa) issued a report warning that income disparities in South Africa have widened in the past two years, boosted by rapid growth in high income brackets, especially among blacks.

Professor Carel van Aaardt of Unisa told a South African business newspaper that Gini coefficient, a conventional way of measuring income inequality, widened to 0, 65 last year from 0, 63 in 2006. That was well above what had taken place in comparable emerging economies in the world such as Brazil, Malaysia and Vietnam.

At the advent of majority rule in1994, South Africa's Gini coefficient was estimated at 0, 57, mainly because there were fewer wealthy people then.

It is therefore very clear that race is still a major impediment to the upward economic mobility of most blacks with respect to income, level of education and occupational status. Even the least advantaged white groups such as the Afrikaners and the Portuguese have far higher incomes than any other non-white group. On average, whites have about twice the incomes of Asians, nearly four times the incomes of Coloureds and more than five times the incomes of blacks. Whites are also far less likely to be unemployed, followed in order by the Asians, Coloureds and Blacks, among whom more than 40 percent are unemployed.

The Jews are the most elite economic white group among South African whites, enjoying the highest incomes together with immigrants from England, the Netherlands and Germany. They are also mostly engaged in high status occupations, with nearly 90 percent of them working in non-manual jobs and nearly two thirds among the salaried. Afrikaners have not yet achieved equality with their English speaking South African born whites, although they are nearly as well educated.

What has happened in southern Africa is that the whites who resisted black rule in the region, buttressed by a large white immigrant population from Europe, have regrouped in that country to thwart any attempt by that country's black population to embark on a path of authentic decolonization. They hope to hold back the tide of true black emancipation from their shores for at least 100 years, by which time its embers will have long died down.

So those black writers, thinkers and supposed opinion makers whose eyes are blinkered from this reality, are simply continuing to play the role played by askaris and sell-outs during the days of colonialism and apartheid. Towards the end of apartheid such sell-outs and askaris were "neck-laced" in public as an example to others. Today, they are rewarded with "bravery awards," "human rights awards" and other cash inducements to continue with their "struggle" to entrench the hegemony of apartheid and Western imperialism in South Africa and the region.

Wow. It's still not enough for the blacks? Amazing.