South Africa's Continuous Struggle With Race

A single change in government and the destruction of an entire political, cultural, social and economic system like that of Apartheid does not necessarily guarantee the destruction of its legacy. The last couple of months have seen South Africa go through an interesting dilemma and debate with regards to its race relations.

Blogger Constitutionally Speaking sets the stage up nicely with a post titled “A rethink on race?”:

Even if we wish to deny it, race hovers not far from the surface in private or other everyday settings: as an unspoken presence, a (wrongly) perceived absence or as a painful, confusing, liberating or oppressive reality in social, economic or other – more intimate – interactions between individuals or between groups of individuals. In South Africa we (still) cannot escape race.

It will take a concerted legislative, educational and societal effort to dismantle this system of racial hierarchy and race-thinking. That is why the Constitution mandates affirmative action and why legislation like the Employment Equity Act and the Black Economic Empowerment Act was adopted by the ANC government.

The problem is that when the law deploys race to address the effects of past unfair discrimination and the ongoing dominance of an ideology of white supremacy, how can this be done without merely perpetuating the very apartheid race categories and the positions of privilege and hierarchical dominance of whiteness implied by it?

The problem is complex. On the one hand, the danger is that the deployment of racial categories in the law can have the effect of perpetuating and legitimising racial categories (and the assumed dominance of whiteness inherent in the deployment of such categories). By recognising these categories and by dealing with them as if they are a given — normal, essentialist, unchanging and unchangeable — and by failing to challenge the hierarchical assumptions underlying the deployment of these categories, the law can do immense harm — even in the name of wanting to do good.

One of the most important stories capturing the minds of the South African public is that of the Reitz 4, a group of four boys (now men) from the Free State who filmed their escapades of “initiating” five black cleaners at their University and creating a racist mockumentary.

A sign from the Apartheid era in South Africa. Photo from Wikimedia Commons released by user El_C

A sign from the Apartheid era in South Africa. Photo from Wikimedia Commons released by user El_C

Rooinek discusses the Reitz 4 trial and the judgment in “Ask me how I feel about the Reitz 4?”:

In Bloem there are four young men that wake up everyday thanking the heavens above that they had to pay a R20, 000 fine instead of serving jail time. The Reitz 4 regret the day the decided to film their res cleaners in a mockumentarty that caused consternation and made the front page of newspapers around the country.

I would never condone racism (unless it’s against the French) and to me the idea of racism is one that upsets me. There is uproar across the country that these guys should have been handed down a worst sentence.

This country is very opinionated on hear-say. We have all got an opinion on the Reitz 4 but yet none of us have watched their infamous video. People are basing their opinions on what they heard because their friend’s friend heard from some guy who watched thirteen seconds of it that it is bad. I’ve also heard these stories and I really thin the media could be blowing this out of proportion, but that’s what they good for. My gosh I hate the media; you can’t trust them as far as you can kick them.

The rest of the post by Rooinek is a bit neither-here-nor-there in terms of what his opinion really is but another blogger, Pessimist Incarnate, elaborates his opinion in a post titled “I do believe there is hope for South Africans and the racial tensions”.

True to custom, the four boys – now huge men – were there on time, waiting. I studied their eyes and their body language. You could feel the nervous tension emanating from their bodies with their reserved hand-greeting.

So far they had managed to stay out of the public eye, except for the endless replays of the video footage of the entanglement where what appears to be a series of games played by students and workers turned out to be a racist attack on the black staff as a means of protesting racial integration in the campus residences.

But now, after long and complex negotiations between the three parties involved – the university, the former students and the staff – an agreement was reached to settle the matter out-of-court.

The dinner arranged might or might not happen in Room 16, where family and food awaited the outcome of the drama down the corridor in the Rector's seminar room. This seminar room was the site of many difficult dialogues during my 20 months on the campus; it was also the room where the historic meeting between Julius Malema and me took place late in 2009. If that room could talk .

There was a snag. One, then two, of the women workers wanted to first meet alone with one of the boys. This was risky; what if something went wrong, a private confrontation that could demolish months of hard work by the three sides.

When we heard the request it was clear that this was to be a glorious moment. The first woman wanted to meet with the boy whom she knew longest, and whom she expected to defend her dignity among the other boys. She wanted to know how he could let her down. She wanted an explanation before the bigger meeting with all nine participants.

I cannot imagine what pain these two engagements brought, but I remember leaving the room, with one of the workers crying. I called the psychologist to join them.

IOL News, although not a blog as such, covers a story of Cape Town Mayor, Dan Plato's, intent to move away from the current policy regarding racial representation in the workplace, which is a further evidence of the current discussion and debate around race in the country.

Warwick Chapman in his post, “Voters need to bring balance to our democracy”, argues that the current government has not really delivered on the promise of ”a better life for all’ and instead seems to be instigating a reverse policy of the Apartheid regime:

Many South Africans, across the spectrum have not yet experienced a government which is truly good to all. The NP government of white privilege and the ANC government of cadre privilege will be remembered for serving only some South Africans.

The Apartheid government made itself infamous for harnessing the wealth and human resources of a country to enrich a racial minority, and the new government was always going to have a mammoth task transforming it into a government which delivers for all.

But in too many respects, the ANC Government isn’t doing much better than its predecessor. Non-whites in general, and blacks in particular, continue to live in poor conditions, with little real prospect of material improvement. Cadres of the ANC meanwhile have jobs and contracts which they aren’t doing well enough to ensure the required service delivery and economic growth required.

A similar point of view is covered by “Common Dialogue” in his post titled “Zille says ANC is trapped in racial nationalism”

Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille says the well-intentioned promises made at the ANC’s 99th anniversary will come to naught because the former liberation movement and its alliance partners were cannot still caught in a toxic trap of racial nationalism.
“As President Zuma revealed in his speech, the tripartite alliance is still caught in a toxic trap of racial nationalism and Marxist-Leninism (including discredited ideas such as “democratic centralism”, a Communist “vanguard” party, cadre deployment, the conflation of party and state, and the predominance of the ruling party over Parliament.) The ANC needs this ideological underpinning because, without it, the “tripartite alliance” would fall apart. Keeping this coalition together is President Zuma’s “unwavering commitment” and his top priority in an election year. But, ironically, this is also the key reason why the ANC will be unable to adopt or implement the policies that can achieve its stated goals. This will become increasingly apparent, in the form of unfulfilled promises, which will eventually lead to the party’s downfall,” said Zille in her weekly newsletter SA Today.

I,ve always questioned the capabilities of the ANC to pursue capitalism while in bed with the Communist Party and a trade union federation (Cosatu). The jury is still out.

South African singer, Steve Hofmeyer, has also added to the race debate with his recent outbursts. Memeburn has a blog post covering it:

Afrikaans singer and celebrity Steve Hofmeyr has “sparked a racial storm” on his sizeable Facebook Page, reports the Times today. The singer’s anger and outrage over recent farm murders of a white couple and their three-year old child spilled over onto Facebook to his 89 000 fans this weekend.
This is not the first time that Hofmeyr has lashed out using Facebook as a channel — and his status updates continue to walk a fine line between justifiable anger and hate speech.

In recent months, Steve Hofmeyr has become more than just an entertainer. The outspoken personality has used Facebook and his blog to represent a segment of the white Afrikaans community who feel marginalised and voiceless.
When Hofmeyr posted an update that read “I don’t know how the world thinks we should transform, integrate and let go of our prejudices and stay nice, tolerant Christians when blacks can shoot a three-year-old child in the head”, over 800 comments and 2000 likes followed, ranging from the thoughtful and measured to the racist and hateful.

Apartheid era sign in Durban, South Africa. Photo released to Wikimedia Commons by user Guinnog

Apartheid era sign in Durban, South Africa. Photo released to Wikimedia Commons by user Guinnog

MikeZilla from MyDigitalLife expounds on Hofmeyer's rant:

The problem you see has nothing to do with dead farmers, untalented afrikaners or Irish supergroups. The problem is still the highly polarized society we live in. I listened to Radio 702 on Sunday morning en almal wat n Afrikaner is came out and damned Bono to hell for talking about something he knows sweet F*k*l about. The rage dripped from the speakers, while everyone who wasn't an Afrikaner either jumped to the Irishman's defence each person defending what Bono didn't say.

The problem is no one is effing listening anymore. The Hof, the ANC the public we've all turned into little kids with our fingers stuck in our ears as we sing the stem and “Shoot the Boer” at the top our lungs.
Sure I feel for the unfortunate affluent farmers who are being targeted due to the fact that they have lots of money and live far away from cities. Every victim of crime is one victim too many but The Hof needs to stop banging on about them like they're of some kind of environmental importance. They're not Rhino, they're not an endangered species they're victims of crime in the country and they're being targeted as much as people who are getting hijacked or mugged in big cities.

I implore The Hof to stop acting like a petulant child and focus on singing, the old age home circuit sorely misses you

Other examples apart from Steve Hofmeyer have come a blog post by Urban Ministry Live And Unplugged titled “Those Who Don't Count”, which talks about racial profiling in church:

A minister friend wrote to me this morning about what he called “a racial issue” in the Church: the problem of people who “don't count” because they belong to another racial group. This is a phenomenon that I am continually aware of. Usually, in my experience, it is unconscious rather than overt. For instance, people get overlooked — quite unintentionally — when one draws up rosters, or puts together orders of service, and so on. Here's another example of the phenomenon: a woman in our Church said to me one Sunday morning: “There's no one else here in my age group.” I said: “Look, there are lots,” and I pointed out and named several people. She hadn't seen them. OBSERVATION: In our own Church, I see this at work in various directions. That is, it's not just one cultural group that does it. I think one simply needs to be aware of this, continually seek to avoid favouritism (be no respecter of persons), and continually seek to reveal all those lamps hidden under bowls/candles hidden under bushels. The Holy Spirit does a marvellous work in all.

Country of my Skull covers the racial profiling issue from an ANC policy perspective:

Firstly an advance warning

In view of South Africa’s addiction to racial profiling, I’m going to regularly throw about the words white and black to make my point. I don’t speak or think like this, but I’ll use these terms to show how stupid the ANC’s policies on BEE, BBBEE, AA, and EE really are.

Now take a deep breath

The other day @comradesipho made the point that BEE was necessary to “fix economic discrimination.” I agree with a lot of what he says, but this is just lunacy.

Now I’m all for black people making money so the real question is how to do it? The ANC has tabled a whole gaggle of policies to fix this, but all I can see is a bunch of politically connected black billionaires who were at the right place at the right time. These people are not genuine entrepreneurs or risk takers but opportunists. Meanwhile, a whole industry of consultants and companies has sprung up advising companies on how best to “game” their empowerment credentials so the government leaves them alone. This system is working especially well for all the president’s men.

How long must these policies remain in place? “Look to the US,” says @comradesipho, “memories are long”. Well the US has elected a black president and the African American economy is about ONE TRILLION DOLLARS, which would make it the 15th biggest economy in the world crushing that of any country in Africa. That’s a whole lot of social justice. So how did they get there? Certainly not by government programs.

If you need any more information on the Employment Equity Act of South Africa, the blog “All About Jobs Cape Town” covers FAQ on the act.

And finally,Quid Pro Quo covers a pledge to “take back the racial middleground in South Africa”…

My friend Patrick Madden wrote a call to action in April of this year, which was a period of intense racial animosity and uncertainty in the country. He crafted this pledge as a way of restoring some sanity to the discourse surrounding the national question in South Africa, and it bears repeating. See Patrick's explanation as well as the original pledge here.
* I recognise the feelings of tension and anger felt between people of different races in South Africa today.

* I recognise that nurturing these feelings undermines our mutual best interests and our highest ambitions for ourselves, our communities and our nation.

*I recognise my interdependence with all South Africans. I affirm that South Africans of all races and cultures can work together to improve the conditions of our lives and our environment. Recognising our common humanity, I pledge to relate to all South Africans with compassion and respect and to work with them in an atmosphere of openness and mutual recognition.

* I aspire to create a South Africa that is safe and caring for all. Therefore, I personally vow to refrain from violence and from violent speech towards anyone, regardless of their race or culture.

Let's hope this period of introspection and debate around racial inequality in South Africa can really lead to racial equality and ultimately a “better life for all”. But it will take hard work and far less talk.

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