A Lake Country resident who was born and raised in South Africa is sad to see the country’s ongoing struggle with inequality.
While roughly 80 per cent of South Africa’s population is black, the white population, which makes up roughly 10 per cent of the population, still has the greatest amount of economic opportunity.
In August 2018, the African National Congress, Nelson Mandela’s governing party and a party riddled with corruption, decided to move forward with plans to re-distribute land from white farmers without compensation as a way to re-distribute wealth. White South Africans own about 73 per cent of commercial agricultural lands.
Some experts warn that South Africa could become the next Zimbabwe, which attempted to re-distribute land from white farmers to the black community which led to the country’s economic downfall in the early 2000s, but in the book Promised Land: Competing Visions of Agrarian Reform, author Peter Rosser discusses the necessity of land re-distribution in South Africa to address inequality. The A.N.C. also promised land reforms when it was first elected in 1994.
“I went to a white elementary school in a white neighbourhood, by law.”
Mark Koch, director of planning and community services with the District of Lake Country, grew up in Durban, the third largest city in South Africa.
Koch was in high school when Apartheid ended in 1991, and when the country became democratic in 1994. His elementary school was segregated.
“I went to a white elementary school in a white neighbourhood, by law. As a professional planner to see a lot of the zoning tools which were intentionally used to segregate is frightening,” Koch said.
He remembers the day Nelson Mandela was released from prison.
“It was interesting as far as integration and what that means even,” he said. Even though segregation laws had ended, historically the neighbourhood was still white, as was the public school Koch attended.
“It was integrated legally in 1991 but the numbers weren’t fully represented,” he said.
Prior to the country’s change from a white authoritarian government to democracy, Koch remembers playing in a tennis tournament at 14 with his friend Sizwe, who is black. It gathered attention.
“The institutions were so set up to divide, and it was at a tennis club that was historically white and we said we’re going to enter into a doubles tournament and it was before democracy came… it was quite interesting (getting) the looks and comments,” he said.
“No one said anything formally, but it was definitely out of place.”
His parents had a progressive approach in their household, he said.
“My parents were always openminded and never instilled any hatred of anyone else… At the same time, the government was very involved in propaganda and the laws were racist and fortunately, I grew up in a household that never subscribed to that.”
“My dad grew up in the pre-Apartheid (era) and the neighbourhood was fairly mixed before the laws changed and people had to move,” he said.
Moving out of the country
Koch moved to Canada with his parents and older brother in 1996 because of the country’s crime and political uncertainty. Murder rates increased significantly during the early 1990s. To this day, South Africa has some of the highest rates of sexual assault in the world.
Some of Koch’s friends and family remain in South Africa, but others have migrated to Australia, New Zealand, the U.K. or the USA. He said much of his grad class migrated to Australia.
“It’s sad, people are referring to it as the brain drain and a lot of talented people are leaving,” he said. “If you think about even here in Lake Country, a lot of the doctors are South African. In my take, that’s people looking for stable future ”
Despite South Africa’s inequality, Koch has an appreciation for where he grew up.
“It’s an amazing country that has such vibrancy. When I went back five years ago it was so cool to see the next phase in the country’s experience, where things are a little bit more integrated,” he said.
“South Africa has gone through such a dark time, it’d be nice to let it shine. I would love to show my son, I took him when he was eight months old. He was a little too young, but I would love to show him where I’m from.”
Leaving the country at 18, Koch’s family moved to Vancouver. He has spent the last 10 years living in Lake Country and 15 in the Central Okanagan.
With his experiences in South Africa, he doesn’t take for granted Canada’s democratic system, nor the power he wields as a planner with a mandate to bring communities together.
“I enjoy community, obviously the principles of planning are about equality and community collaboration, I definitely don’t take the democracy that we’re blessed to live in as part of Canada for granted.”
He called it surreal to see the tourists flocking to locations that were once entrenched parts of Apartheid.
“I don’t want for one-second to project that life was anything but fantastic for me, and I’m mindful for that and the oddity of my colour shaped that.
“I really do hope South Africa can find stability, and equality, equal opportunity,” he said.