Ahmed Kathrada calls for fight to the death against racism

Legislation about racism will help weed out overt racism but that alone is not enough, says Ahmed Kathrada. (Theana Calitz, Gallo)

Legislation about racism will help weed out overt racism but that alone is not enough, says Ahmed Kathrada. (Theana Calitz, Gallo)

“Today, we must realise that the fight for nonracialism, equity and equality is not short-term work but generational work,” said Ahmed Kathrada in a statement issued by his foundation.

“It requires united effort and a lifetime of commitment for which, as Madiba alluded, if needs be, we should be prepared to die.”

Kathrada was referring to late former president Nelson Mandela’s speech from the dock during the 1964 Rivonia Trial.

Mandela famously concluded: “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for, and to see realised.
But my lord, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Kathrada said he thought of Mandela’s words when considering the work required to tackle the country’s ongoing challenges with race.

He made reference to recent public incidents of racism in which Matthew Theunissen allegedly called government “a bunch of k****rs” and former SPCA Matlosana branch manager Suzette Kotze, who reportedly used the same term in an online rant where she allegedly called for black people to die a “suffering suffocating death”.

Kathrada said that despite the outlawing of the word, “k****r” was evidently – and unsurprisingly – still in use.

“If these incidents tell us anything, it’s that the k-word is very much a part of the socialisation of some individuals and may well be used without blinking an eyelid in some South African homes,” he said.

Kathrada said that the obvious use of “k****r” illustrated that there had been a lack of education about the “history of hurt, indignity, prejudice and sheer hatred that these six letters contain”.

As such, Kathrada said he supported the use of law in clamping down on racism: “I am of the view that existing legislation against racism must be strengthened.” 

“Law will not change people’s attitudes overnight, but it certainly will clamp down on overt displays of racism,” he said.

However, said Kathrada, the fight against racism required more than just the law. “It requires all – individuals, organisations and communities – to ‘stamp their dignity’,” he said.

Kathrada used an example from the struggle days. “I refer to [an] incident, when years ago, together with some friends, I used a ‘Europeans only’ lift. A white woman, who also wanted to use the lift, told us to read the sign. We responded by saying that ‘we do not mind sharing a lift with Europeans’ and that she was welcome to join us.

“Of course, she must have been horrified at the attitude of us ‘non-Europeans’ and chose not to take the lift. But we asserted our dignity and made our point,” he said.

To continue this stamping of dignity, Kathrada said South Africans need to keep exposing and challenging racism. “It means taking on not only the prejudices of colleagues, family and friends, but one’s own discriminatory views.”

He added that he was impressed by those who had used public platforms to voice their anger over the recent racist incidents.

“Although not much of a social media fan, I’ve heard that #MabelJansen was trending on Twitter, with various people challenging her racist notions,” he said.

He encouraged South Africans to continue in this fashion, as well as equip themselves with the knowledge of how to lodge complaints with the Equality Court, the South African Human Rights Commission and, in the case of high court Judge Mabel Jansen, the Judicial Service Commission.

Kathrada made further recommendations for tackling racism, including related information in the school syllabus, dedicated columns in the media and support from business for initiatives aimed at raising awareness, such as the Anti-Racism Network South Africa.

Awareness and education, said Kathrada, could help turn racists into enlightened citizens. “Through education and learning, even the worst racists can unlearn their prejudices,” he said.

“We must not forget that some of those who were heavily tied in with the apartheid state – prison warders, government officials and supporters of the regime – have changed their views and turned over a new leaf.” – African News Agency

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