SOUTH AFRICA, July 25 – The head of South Africa’s governing African National Congress, Jacob Zuma, has said he is shocked and embarrassed about white poverty in the country.
Zuma was speaking after visiting the Bethlehem township near the capital, Pretoria, where white families live without running water or electricity.
He said the high level of black poverty did not mean whites did not suffer too.
South Africa’s Helping Hand says the number of homeless white people has increased by 58% since 2002.
A new report by the charity, which helps poor white communities, says more than 130,000 white people in South Africa are homeless.
Speaking in Bethlehem, Zuma said: "I am shocked and surprised by what I have seen here.
"The vast number of black poverty does not mean that we must ignore white poverty, which is increasingly becoming an embarrassment to talk about."
He said he had seen the same problems facing white residents of the township as he had seen in black squatter camps.
"This is not about politics, it’s about people who are poor, who are in need and want to be helped by government," he said, quoted by the AFP news agency.
The trade union Solidarity, whose membership is mainly white, said it welcomed Zuma’s visit as an acknowledgement that poverty did not only affect the majority black population.
"For a long time whites have been seen as rich and and blacks poor," Solidarity secretary general Flip Buys told the AFP.
"Talking about white poverty has been seen as politically incorrect. The emergence of this scourge has left everyone looking for answers."
Analysts say Zuma is keen to reach out to the white community at the same time as the main opposition party – which is predominantly white – seeks to increase its appeal to the black community, ahead of next year’s election.