In 100 years, the ANC stood up to the dehumanising Land act, the Union of RSA that excluded black people, Sharpeville, the Rivonia Trial and Robben Ireland, June 16, The turbulent 80s, the murder of Chris Hani – the ANC endured, holding the country together, and were it not for this organisation, many of us would not be here. It is this history that has made the ANC dedicate itself to moving the country as rapidly and as consistently as possible into a non-racial, non-sexist and successful nation.
However, 2016 unearthed an ugly and almost unrepresented side of one race viewing the other in derogatory and violent terms. There have been a lot of offensive statements and cruel racial acts that have been made by white South Africans. From two white man putting a black man alive in a casket to white communities closing off beaches to black people, the year has felt very divisive. There has been the obvious rebuke and outrage at those offensive remarks and actions. But there has also been a troubling defence of this behaviour from mostly other white South Africans and some fellow post-colour black South Africans who would like to consider themselves individuals, outside of any race categorisation.
What is important, however, when white South Africans want to defend such rhetoric as overly sensitive or misinterpreted, is the context within which they are made. Black people see these comments through a particular sense of experiences.
There are very few black South Africans who have not had the experience of being followed at a shopping store. There are very few black men walking across the street who have not had the experience of hearing cars being locked as they approach. Then there is the white woman who clutches her purse or lets the lift pass if she would have to share it with a black man.
By just about any measure, a black child is less likely to complete high school, less likely to earn a university degree, less likely to be employed, less likely to have medical aid and less likely to own a home, compared to their white counterparts.
Part of this is the continued, sometimes subtle, bigotry, on who gets called back for a job interview, or who gets suspended from school, or what neighborhood you are able to rent a flat in, so we cannot be satisfied until these gaps are closed for every black child in this country.
There is the history of uneven application of the criminal justice that has not escaped the black experience. It is those experiences through which we interpret the statements that have been made by various white South Africans, including the reckless Western Cape Premier, Helen Zille.
All these, at least for the black people – he poverty, the exclusion – all speak to our violent past, which white people are responsible for. The fact that this terrible black experience and white people’s responsibility for it is largely unacknowledged on the daily blogs, the Politicswebs, the Rand Daily Mails, Daily Mavericks, adds to the frustration.
So when this context is denied it gets very frustrating. The black anger is real and is justified, but even that black anger can become counterproductive, especially when it is not directing us to a country of our dreams. It is also true that there is anger in some white communities, those who don’t really see themselves as particularly privileged by their race and may seek to dismiss any categorisation of white privilege. Even this anger cannot be summarily dismissed. The sad reality is that even though our struggles could never be comparable, how we think about them is quite similar. The question then becomes “do we have the capacity to acknowledge that?”. The great tragedy has been the inability of all South Africans to get together and ask, why is the economy structured in the way it has been, predominantly divided along racial lines. This would help us move faster into the necessary positive direction.
So beyond the outrages and boycotts and reports to commissions, what concrete things can we do to start moving in the right direction?
- We need new interactions with one another, through state and private sector programmes, in order to reduce the racial mistrust.
- We need specific training for councillors and leaders of society on how to spot potential bias within oneself and how to impact the lessons into your community.
- We need to explore how we can lift each other up and bring positive reinforcements to one another instead of pulling each other down.
- Then we all need to do some soul-searching. How deep is my bias based on people’s race or ethnicity or speech patterns or assimilation? In schools, churches, homes, where people can be a little more honest with how they feel.
Finally, we should never lose sight of the undeniable fact that things are getting better and that for the majority of South Africans, black or white, attitudes have been changing with each successive year. What a white middle class and a black middle class have in common these days is significant. What keeps them apart is more cultural and other historical differences and in time, because of so much space and time they must share they are going to realise that what keeps them apart is not real. As we have been doing throughout the 22 years of freedom, we have been able to recognise ourselves from each other.
We are a country of ideals and our forefathers lived to achieve those ideals. An end to white domination, an end to black domination. A building of a society where black people and white people will live together in conditions of peace and prosperity.
We have always been a country guided by our hopes not our fears.
We are a country that chose Love over Hate. DM