The looming threat to our democracy is when the social fabric begins to unravel and because of the mismatched patchwork that has been rendered begins to fray. Racism and white supremacy has gone unanswered, unchecked and unrestrained for far too long. We have been unable to confront a system of hatred, which is underpinned on a sense of supremacy and often entitlement.
The ink has not even dried on our new 2016 calendars. We could not even enjoy the calm before the chaos that will surely follow: President Zuma’s State of the Nation Address, the resumption of #FeesMustFall, the 2015 Matric results, the outcome from the Monetary Policy Commission’s January meeting (a likely interest rate hike), or the ongoing African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) issue.
No, Chris Hart and Penny Sparrow, and the many others who feel free to disseminate hatred, had other plans. Their outbursts have again highlighted how troubled and un-reconciled the Rainbow Nation is. This is not simply a reflection of the racism, hatred and bile that underlies the thinking of Hart or Sparrow, but rather how comfortable they must feel to spew forth this vitriol.
There is a climate in South Africa that allows people like Steve Hofmeyr, Chris Hart and Penny Sparrow to speak. This comes from our carefree attitude about building our social compact, but we can’t expect it to miraculously build and sustain itself. We have to confront racism in order to meaningfully move the country forward. Racism and white supremacy is not simply reflected in the diatribes and outbursts from people like Penny Sparrow, but also in the need for black South Africans to conform and somehow work within a system that degrades us.
When black South Africans enter the workplaces, classrooms and lecture theatres that were previously reserved for whites, we must soften our consonants. We must refrain from talking too loudly or sharing too personally. We have to find more Anglicised names in order not to make them feel uncomfortable. We have to comb our hair in a particular way or even dress in order to satisfy them. We always have to explain our blackness away. This is not acceptable, nor should we tolerate it. Surely, we have been brutalised enough? We are forced to tread carefully in this world as if we aren’t human. We are made to feel that we are not enough. All of this because white supremacy and the normative structure has been allowed to remain transfixed.
We allow streets to be renamed after former leaders of the apartheid regime. We allow racists undertones to sit comfortably in the #ZumaMustFall protests. We watch quietly as the racist remarks are made about the #FeesMustFall and #RhodesMustFall movements. We sit quietly while people like FW de Klerk, write letters to the British press, in his self-righteous way, to reduce the #RhodesMustFall movement to simply being about “political correctness”. Far too many South Africans confuse last year’s student movements simply as youth “being reckless and young”. They fail to appreciate that the consequences of plastering over our flaws are that the cracks will begin to show, as they already are, and those cracks will be far deeper than we could have ever admitted.
The events of the past year, and now punctuated by the hatred of people like Penny Sparrow must remind South Africans that South Africa is under threat as long as we allow these elements to go unchecked. It is not enough to simply confront them on social media, but to do so also in the quiet and private spaces around the braai, at the pool, in the classrooms, in the boardrooms, on our farms and our places of worship.
As long as we do nothing, people like Steve Hofmeyr and Penny Sparrow will continue to exist as will the places of exclusion. When called out for their racism, they will respond as a truck driver would after he drove over a child, saying “sorry to anyone that may have been injured. I didn’t expect anyone to take it personally”.
Chris Hart may have to face an internal disciplinary process with Standard Bank and Jawitz Properties have done everything to distance themselves from Penny Sparrow. However, that will not solve the broader problems of race relations, prejudice, white supremacy, and unchecked hatred in South Africa. Racism in South Africa won’t magically disappear. Like gun violence in America will not simply be solved because President Barack Obama plans to introduce 23 executive actions and three presidential memoranda. It is 2016, racism must not simply just fall. It must die. DM