White poverty is silent and it is not politically correct to talk about it. President Thabo Mbeki speaks to rich white people, while ANC president Jacob Zuma interacts with both rich and poor, said Solidarity general secretary Dirk Herman.
Herman was speaking on Friday after an unprecedented meeting between Pretoria informal settlement and ANC president Jacob Zuma. They asked him to help improve their living conditions.
The visit was organised by trade union Solidarity, which said they wanted to break the silence about poor white communities.
"White poverty is treated as a social secret," Herman said. "We are hoping to break the silence and we feel Zuma should be involved because he is a constable around poor people.
"In the past 10 years, white poverty has grown by 150percent. Some 430000 whites cannot afford to live in traditionally white neighbourhoods.
"Housing is a problem for needy whites because they don't have access to government housing schemes. We ask Zuma to take a position against discrimination in awarding social subsidies. Poverty has no colour."
Zuma visited the white informal settlement on a private plot in Bethlehem outside Pretoria.
"Solidarity has taken on an important task," Zuma said. "This is one of the situations in South Africa that people should talk about. I knew there were poor whites in the country but I never thought it was to this degree."
He was belatedly showered with gifts that included blankets, books, a bicycle and potjiekos for his birthday.
One of the residents, Kasandra Nel, said: "We are very happy that you came to see our living conditions. Winter is here and we have no hot water, electricity or running water.
"We would appreciate it if you could help improve our standard of living."