A week to tackle the scourge of racism at all levels of society

In a 2016 article, struggle stalwart Ahmed Kathrada said that “the fight for nonracialism, equity and equality is not short-term work, but generational work. It requires united effort, and a lifetime of commitment.”

As Kathrada recovers in hospital, I reflected on the type of commitment his generation displayed in challenging a racist and oppressive state. We require a similar commitment today to remove the vestiges of apartheid — institutional and attitudinal racism.

With this in mind the Anti-Racism Network South Africa (Arnsa) marks Anti-Racism Week 2017. The campaign, from March 14 to 21, challenges South Africans to #TakeOnRacism.

Arnsa is a network of 60 organisations, spearheaded by the Ahmed Kathrada and Nelson Mandela foundations. It aims to tackle the scourge of racism at grassroots level by organising all sectors of society into a united front against racism.

Anti-Racism Week calls on people to learn, speak and act against racism. It encourages individuals and organisations to do something within their own means and capacity to challenge racism.

Schools could host assemblies against racism; faith-based organisations could address issues of racism in their sermons. Businesses could host workplace discussions about racism and sports teams could dedicate games to support the week.

The week culminates on March 21, Human Rights Day in South Africa and the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The idea is to create mass awareness, conveying the #TakeOnRacism message to all who live in South Africa.

Incidents of racism over the past year should leave us deeply disturbed. The South African Human Rights Commission dealt with 505 complaints on racism — an 82% increase from the previous year. This may point to increased awareness on reporting racism, which is positive. But if 500 cases about racism were reported to the SAHRC, how many incidents were not reported?

Although some research, such as that by the Institute for Race Relations, indicate racism may not be a big issue for South Africans, the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation has found otherwise.  The South African Reconciliation Barometer indicates that persistent socioeconomic inequalities continue to affect the progress made in building social cohesion and reconciliation in a post-apartheid South Africa.

A practical example the Baro-meter provides is that 77% of white respondents, 56% of Indian respondents, 42% of African respondents and only 29% of coloured respondents believe that they have the education they need to achieve their goals. Specific issues such as education are linked to racial identities and perpetuating inequality.

Several weeks ago, the SAHRC listened to presentations on racism and social media in South Africa. The Kathrada Foundation’s submission detailed a collation of online race-related issues. Penny Sparrow and the Pretoria Girls’ High stories featured in the top 10 social media and online news stories of the year, indicating that these incidents remained a major talking point for South Africans. Added to this was the global rise of a racist, right-wing mentality.

The foundation also noted a re-emergence of overt racism, such as the use of derogatory language and incitement to violence, and a repetition of similar incidents — despite the furore over the Penny Sparrow case.

The Foundation’s view is that social media both reflected and influenced reality and racial perceptions. It noted that suppressing racial expression online was only a short-term answer. Changing racial attitudes, tackling structural racism and levelling inequality are long-term goals.

One way is ongoing national debate and action against racism, for which Anti-Racism Week provides a platform. The week is meant to galvanise all sectors of society to engage openly about the issue, empowering people to #TakeOnRacism.

People often ask how ordinary individuals can fight racism when it is so deeply entrenched in our society. In the past year, we have seen some examples: highlighting it on social media, speaking up when racist comments are made at the dinner table, challenging it through Equality Courts, raising it through protest action, confronting it at schools and universities and ensuring that racist employees are dismissed.

This Anti-Racism Week, we want people to share how they have challenged racism. This will allow us to pool our knowledge and experience in tackling racism. We can then encourage others to recognise, speak and act against racism.

In 2014, during a speech to the United Nations, Kathrada called for the equivalent of a “Greenpeace against racism”. Although Arnsa is by no means a global organisation, it does begin to tackle racism on a broader and sustained front.

Coupled with the National Action Plan to combat Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerances, it is the beginning of a more focused countrywide approach to tackling the issue.

In 1990, anti-apartheid struggle veteran Walter Sisulu said: “We must unite to build one nation, in one South Africa.” He added: “This we must do not just for ourselves, but also our children, so that one day they can say with pride that we were a generation that cared.”

Mandela, Sisulu and Kathrada’s generation have done their bit to conceptualise and shape the development of a nonracial South Africa. This Anti-Racism Week, we should all ask ourselves what we are doing today to ensure that post-apartheid racism is challenged in all its forms.

We should recommit to #TakeOnRacism with greater determination, so that our children will one day know that we were also a generation that cared.

Derek Hanekom is the minister of tourism. He writes in his capacity as the chairperson of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation

For more information about the Anti-Racism Network South Africa, visit www.kathradafoundation.org

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