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31 May 2016 07:50 (South Africa)
South Africa

The Long Road 2.0: Combatting racism in South Africa

  • Ranjeni Munusamy
    ranjeni munusami BW
    Ranjeni Munusamy

    Ranjeni Munusamy is a survivor of the Salem witch trials and has the scars to show it. She has a substantial collection of tattered t-shirts from having “been there and done it” – from government, the Zuma trials, spin-doctoring and upsetting the applecart in South African newsrooms. Following a rather unexciting exorcism ceremony, she traded her femme-fatale gear for a Macbook and a packet of Liquorice Allsorts. Her graduation Cum Laude from the School of Hard Knocks means she knows a thing or two about telling the South African story.

  • South Africa
Photo: Former president Nelson Mandela joins anti-apartheid veteran Ahmed Kathrada on the eve of his 80th birthday in Houghton, Johannesburg, Thursday, 20 August 2009. Picture: Debbie Yazbek/Nelson Mandela Foundation

The Nelson Mandela Foundation and Ahmed Kathrada Foundation have launched a week-long campaign for South Africans to engage in activities and programmes to confront the scourge of racism. As the country flounders to respond to the surge of racist incidents, this will be an opportunity to promote race relations and spur action to tackle the underlying factors that keep racism alive. There is a danger, of course, that this can turn into another feel-good Mandela Day-type ritual, where people stage multiracial bake sales and black and white braai days. This is why mechanisms to report and punish racist behaviour are required in the antiracism arsenal. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

Over the weekend, during an FA Cup fourth round clash between Everton and Carlisle United, an announcement had to be made over the public address system in the stadium to stop a section of the crowd from hurling racial abuse against black players. One of the players who was subjected to racist chanting was South Africa’s Steven Pienaar. The matter is now under investigation by British police.

The problem, of course, is how do you track down racists in a crowded stadium, ascertain what exactly was said and whom the abuse was directed to. As a crime, racism is difficult to pin down, wherever it occurs.

The reporting mechanisms and penalties for racism are among the issues the newly established Anti Racism Network South Africa (Arnsa) will have to grapple with as it seeks to create a national action plan to combat racism. The network, facilitated by the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, was launched in November, bringing together about 90 civil society organisations and government institutions. On Tuesday, Arnsa announced its first annual antiracism week from 14 to 21 March 2016.

Speaking at the event, which coincided with the 26th anniversary of FW de Klerk’s announcement of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa said racism was a global problem that required a global response. Mthethwa said he did not yet know the details of proposed amendments to legislation being contemplated by government to tackle racism in society. South Africa needed a multipronged strategy to combat racism with both a “carrot and stick” approach, he said.

“You can’t regulate attitudes but can regulate behaviour,” Mthethwa said. “Our approach has to be comprehensive. Without economic justice, we will continue to skirt around the issues.”

CEO of the Nelson Mandela Foundation Sello Hatang said there should be a full frontal attack on black inferiority as it allowed white supremacy to thrive. He said black South Africans were confronted with racism all the time and this was “defeating” and “paralysing”. He said the responses to racism were not only in South Africa.

“Globally there has been a realisation of the need to dismantle white supremacy. From Ferguson to the Oscars to the Banlieue, the status quo has been disrupted and we need to build on this,” Hatang said.

He said not everything could be blamed on racism, such as criticism of the state. Inefficiency and corruption could not be seen as only racism. “The belief in black incompetence is racism but not all criticism can be deemed racist,” Hatang said. There is an urgent need for an economic Codesa to address structural racism, he said.

But, the fight against racism starts in the home, Hatang said. “Racism happens in our homes. Your child reacts to how you react when you are watching TV… and you see President [Jacob] Zuma do anything and you say ‘that’s black people’. Children then get it ingrained and that is the knowledge in the blood. Until such time that we start dealing with it in our homes, we are going nowhere,” Hatang said.

CEO of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation Neeshan Balton said a major burden in the fight against racism was the lack of global interconnectedness in antiracism work. He said South Africa had no more than a dozen organisations doing antiracism work. There was a lack of leadership even though racism is a daily occurrence, Balton said.

For society to root out racism, there needed to be guidance and training on integration and human rights. For example, Balton said, the country has 1.3 million public servants and there was no induction programme to train these people to conduct their work without discrimination. The incidents of racism at schools was because classrooms became racially integrated but no change management had been done. Teachers and children were not given assistance to deal with the process of change, Balton said.

He said in one of the schools where the Kathrada Foundation had intervened, Coloured and African learners were “self segregating”. “They think it is the right thing to do. And they were using the worst terminology against each other,” he said.

Arnsa head Sean Moodley they wanted religious, sports and business organisations to step up and participate in the March antiracism week. The network will also launch an antiracism pledge on 14 March, which they want South Africans from all sectors of society to sign to commit to work against racism.

Moodley said the network was still working on issues such as the reporting mechanisms for people who experience racism. The Equality Court is one avenue open to people who experience hate speech but the process on how to lay complaints in not widely known.

Balton said every magistrate’s court in the country has the capacity to be an Equality Court but not many people know this. There were preliminary discussions in legal networks to assist victims of racism, he said.

What remains outstanding though is the penalties for racist behaviour. The cases currently before the Equality Court, including those initiated by the ANC against Democratic Alliance members, might provide guidance and precedent. But until there is mass awareness of what constitutes racism and it is popularly known what penalties await those who are guilty of racist behaviour, South African society will continue to battle the plague.

It was somewhat poignant for the initiative to be launched at Mandela’s former office where he continued his human rights work after his retirement, and on the anniversary of announcement of his freedom. Hatang said Madiba had put a lot of work in nation-building but the project was never completed.

“We as South Africans thought we have arrived. Meanwhile that was the beginning. He helped us climb one hill but there were many more mountains. Racism is one of the mountains.”

Now the foundations dedicated to continuing the work of two iconic figures in the struggle against racial discrimination are trying to map that journey ahead. Typically, South Africa still looks backs to that golden generation to find our way again. Another long road awaits. DM

Photo: Former president Nelson Mandela joins anti-apartheid veteran Ahmed Kathrada on the eve of his 80th birthday in Houghton, Johannesburg, Thursday, 20 August 2009. Picture: Debbie Yazbek/Nelson Mandela Foundation.

  • Ranjeni Munusamy
    ranjeni munusami BW
    Ranjeni Munusamy

    Ranjeni Munusamy is a survivor of the Salem witch trials and has the scars to show it. She has a substantial collection of tattered t-shirts from having “been there and done it” – from government, the Zuma trials, spin-doctoring and upsetting the applecart in South African newsrooms. Following a rather unexciting exorcism ceremony, she traded her femme-fatale gear for a Macbook and a packet of Liquorice Allsorts. Her graduation Cum Laude from the School of Hard Knocks means she knows a thing or two about telling the South African story.

  • South Africa

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