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U.S. Delegation Finds Major Advances in South Africa, but Much to Be Done

South Africa has taken enormous strides toward democratization in the past few years, but many vestiges of apartheid remain, an American Jewish delegation discovered on a recent visit here.

The two-member delegation was representing the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council at the recent International Solidarity Conference of the African National Congress here.

Diana Aviv, NJCRAC’s associate executive vice chair, and Al Vorspan, senior vice president emeritus of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, made clear that NJCRAC is a non-partisan organization and that their involvement in the conference was as anti-apartheid activists, not as political supporters of the ANC.

The ANC, led by Nelson Mandela, has long fought against white minority rule in South Africa. The country is now on the verge of a transitional period that would replace it with a power-sharing system.

Aviv, a former South African who left the country because of apartheid and is now involved through NJCRAC with anti-apartheid movements throughout the world, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency of her impressions.

“While there have been extraordinary changes in South Africa over the past few years, especially since 1990,” Aviv said, “the conference presenters made it clear to the delegates that there were many areas in which the ravages of the apartheid system have made their effects felt.”

These effects include the “profound problems” of housing, jobs, equal opportunity and the right to vote, Aviv added.

LITTLE SOCIAL INTEGRATION

“Many people in the United States and internationally have stopped focusing on South Africa, thinking the problems of apartheid are over. This conference brought home the message that an enormous amount has to be done.”

The Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Alon Liel, was present at the conference too.

Aviv met with political, business and Jewish leaders during her trip to South Africa. She and Vorspan also met with the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and the Union of Jewish Women of South Africa.

“I am not sure if Jewish and white leaders have pulled the rest along with them,” Aviv said. “Many of the whites appear to be waiting for the five-year transition period to see if they can trust the ANC.”

Regarding the future of South Africa, Aviv said she is optimistic about those slated to lead the country during the transition period.

“They are intelligent, capable, committed and have an understanding of white fears. But they face a problem in that the material lives of young blacks have not changed, children are still not being educated and a high percentage of the black population is illiterate,” she said.

“There are problems in housing, health, food, education and jobs. The fact that a black government in power is committed to protecting the rights of whites doesn’t change that.”

Aviv said in general she witnessed “tremendous physical integration” but little social integration between black and whites in South Africa.

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