To enjoy the full Mail & Guardian online experience: please upgrade your browser
15 Apr 2015 10:55
In South Africa there is greater colour and race awareness than before. In this in-between phase, we still struggle to come to grips with our abnormal past.
The first step towards greater racial reconciliation is to acknowledge
that the demon is in our midst. It is not easy to harness this demon.
to bury my own racial prejudices.
Racism raises its ugly
head all the time – it happens in spite of the fact that it is impossible to
find a self-proclaimed racist in our country. It is also difficult to find
anyone that ever voted the National Party, with its roots embedded in statutory
racism, into power.
During a visit to Eastern Europe I discovered that it is not possible
to bump into a communist to talk about the old days. Nobody in Eastern Europe
or South Africa wants to be associated with a failed state. This means nobody
wants to take ownership for the past and then no one knows how to cure the past.
You can’t build the future if you don’t understand the past.
I am not brave enough to claim that I am not a racist because I
grapple with my prejudices every day.
At dusk I watch the pedestrians closely. I relax when I see people
that look like me – people who are of the same colour. To my astonishment a
colleague is hijacked in the parking area of a hotel in Johannesburg by “my
people”. I came to realise that criminals are everywhere and that they don’t
The world is contaminated by racism. We are not the only ones who suffer from it. Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize Laureate for his books about welfare
economy, writes that when he first came from India to study in Cambridge in
1953, his landlady warned him to clean the bath nicely. She was afraid that his
hue would stain the tub.
There is greater colour and race awareness than before. This is true
in South Africa but certainly also in the world. We want to move away from this
chapter where race is the determining factor, but in this in-between phase we
still struggle to come to grips with our abnormal past.
Hugh Masekela, internationally renowned jazz personality, talks to a
small circle of friends in Krugersdorp and expresses his surprise that South
Africans – black and white – still do not know how to speak with one another.
Everyone is apologetic: our children will get it right because they don’t
have the barriers we had to contend with; children now go to school together
and have opportunities to mix that we never had, are the excuses tendered.
To me this is nothing but shirking our responsibility, coming from a
generation that has to set the pace to bridge the divides of the past. To the
contrary, they are passive and in a subtle way and sometimes not so subtle way
instill their old fears and prejudices in their children.
Business consultant Alida de Wet found during the research for her
doctoral thesis that racial prejudice is a deep emotional phenomenon. It cannot
be resolved with superficial chit-chats. It must be addressed at a deep
emotional level, in a safe group situation, where honest eye-to-eye,
human-to-human meetings happen.
Until we learn how to live with our pasts and face our racial prejudices
head-on, we will not be able to see the future clearly because our glasses are
polished by our pasts.
We have given our statute book
a facelift and removed all the hurtful racial provisions. It is now the moment
to give our society a heart transplant. We
must remove our racially tinted
We live in a stunningly beautiful country. Your
vantage point, however, determines whether you notice this beauty or not. There
are vantage points where your main concern is to survive, to breathe fresh air;
where hunger pains and the squalor around you weigh heavily on your mind. The
beautiful skyline and scenery means nothing because your main concern is
feeding and clothing your children.
must never get used to poverty. We should never accept poverty as a given. We
should never settle for half measures when we rise to fight poverty.
The residue of colonialism and apartheid is
still there. A few democratic elections cannot undo this. It does not only
revolve around those things that lie behind us, but also around the values and
rights that we now want to make part of our daily existence. These new values
sprout from our past and form the basis from where we reach out to the new
The challenge remains: how do we bridge these
constitutional negotiations that concluded in 1996 gave us a set of ringing
phrases in the preamble and the foundational values without a common
understanding of what they meant. South Africans did not embrace those phrases
with the same enthusiasm. The conclusion of this process left us with a feeling
of negotiating fatigue. Rightly so, because through a number of elections South
Africans have legitimised the Constitution and determined who would hold power.
Those holding power would implement their programmes without having to negotiate them.
end of constitutional negotiations did not herald the end of
constitutional dialogues or dialogues about matters of national importance to
ensure the realising of the constitutional ideals.
come and go, but we as South Africans will always be called upon to uphold the
constitutional values of respecting one another because that is what our common
humanity and the Constitution expects us to do – regardless of the language you
speak or your skin pigmentation.
Paul Kruger’s winged words when he was fighting against colonialism – “Africa shall be free” – could never
have foreseen that Afrikaner revolutionary Bram Fischer would find the inspiration in his words for his struggle against the apartheid government.
Our political freedom has not yet matured into freedom from prejudice and old
In Accra, at the University
of Ghana, my friend Professor Kofi Kumado, introduces me as a true son of Africa.
This honour gives me unexpected heartburn, because just prior to my departure I
had been part of a committee that, on behalf of North-West University, had to
complete the annual Fair Employment Practice forms – those forms deny by
definition that I am an African.
Afrikaner’s European heritage and appearance is not unimportant when his
permanent address is in Africa and specifically in South Africa; it presents
no stumbling block. As a matter of fact, elsewhere in Africa it is a
recommendation. But in South Africa it will take some while yet before
those Fair Employment Practices forms, which irritate me so much, are changed.
Create Account | Lost Your Password?