Sociology defines racism as the belief that races have distinctive cultural characteristics determined by hereditary factors and that this endows some races with an intrinsic superiority over others, as well as abusive or aggressive behaviour towards members of another race on the basis of such a belief
South Africa has a history of racism, which led to the system known as apartheid which was a system of legal racial segregation enforced by the National Party government of South Africa between 1948 and 1993. In this system, the rights of the majority ‘non-white’ inhabitants of South Africa were curtailed and minority rule by white people was maintained. This system came about as strategists in the National Party sought to cement their (white) control over the economic and social system. Initially, the aim of apartheid was to maintain white domination while extending racial separation. However in the 1960s, a plan of ‘Grand Apartheid” was executed, emphasising territorial separation and police repression.
We overcame apartheid in 1994, when Nelson Mandela became the first democratically elected president of South Africa. It was not easy to reach this point and many lives were lost, in this battle for freedom, remember the Sharpeville massacre; the Soweto uprising; St James Church massacre and many other violent scenes which continuously played themselves out in our country. But all those lives were not lost in vain, as we have all gained freedom and stand protected against racial discrimination by the South African Constitution.
There is no doubt that during Apartheid deep hatred was sown amongst South Africa as a whole, both the oppressors and oppressed alike. It also created a sense of inferiority in some of the oppressed, a phenomenon still evident today, along with the superiority still felt by some whites. To suddenly shift from all that to “…a united Democratic and non-racial society” (Oliver Tambo) took its’ toll on everyone, black and white alike. It was not an easy shift, as many clung and still do, to that hatred that was sown amongst us in an effort to divide.
However, I believe that a non-racial society should be what we aspire towards, especially considering that it was only after apartheid was introduced as an official policy following the general election of 1948 that new legislation classified inhabitants into racial groups (“black”, “white”, “coloured”, and “Indian”). Hence, by clinging on to these racial classifications, we are merely clinging onto the divisions that where sown by those who wanted us to forget that we all belong to one race- the human race. Over and above that, by clinging on to these classifications, we continue to allow apartheid to have a grip on our present and future.
There is no doubt, however, that before this ideal can be reached, reparation should be made to those who were oppressed and the racism that is so deeply etched in some of our systems (justice, being one) has to be rooted out.
Some people though, seem to be under the impression that we have conquered racism. Blacks and whites work hand in hand in the same companies; blacks can be superiors to whites in the workplace; we can all study at the same institutions and so much more. As such, dialogue on race and racism is very often frowned upon. One is perceived to be racist and/or divisive, when sharing one’s views on the matter. However, recent events have shown that dialogue about the matter is necessary, as there are serious racial tensions lurking in South Africa. The Kuli Roberts and Jimmy Manyi – Trevor Manuel, as well as the “Blacks Can’t be Racist” sagas are evidence of this. However, out there are other, far worse racially motivated occurrences taking place out there, things we may not know of, but are hindering us as a nation. In areas where there are still ‘white supremacy’ thinkers, racism and it’s consequences are still being felt by those there, something we like to sweep under the rug.
A recent tweet from @AusiDineo (Dineo Rabaholo) “my mother had a “racist” encounter with her boss today,i think it hits the older generation harder than us,opens wounds we dont have:(” Another recent incident was when a farmer, to the amusement of his friends got his dogs to attack his black worker in the North-West Province. Many more tales like this go untold, which simply tells us that we still have a long way to go.
In his Statement in the Rivonia Trial, Pretoria Supreme Court (20 April 1964), Nelson Mandela said, “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. 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 and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for. But, my lord, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” The South Africa we currently have, with all these racial tensions is clearly not what he was jailed 27 years for. The ideal of a non-racial society is something that was sought not only by him and Oliver Tambo, but others involved and lost in the struggle too, as well as many born after the struggle. I am one of those who believe that it is an ideal to aspire towards.
Like Oliver Tambo said, “We have a vision of South Africa in which black and white shall live and work together as equals in conditions of peace and prosperity.” I think the time has come to question what happened to that vision…? Where have things gone wrong…? What is holding us back from achieving that vision…?
When Nelson Mandela Announced the ANC election victory in Johannesburg on the 2nd May 1994, he said, “We might have our differences, but we are one people with a common destiny in our rich variety of culture, race and tradition.” When, if ever will we come to accept this truth- that we are but one.
Is it just a dream or is a non-racial South Africa a possibility that can be achieved…?