Opinion

Racism, of whatever colour, needs urgent attention

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The time has come for all South Africans of goodwill, and  for the appropriate institutions, to take an unbiased look at racism and treat the display of it even-handedly before it destroys us all.

As a proud and loyal South African I was nauseated by the brainless comment on a social media platform by an estate agent who referred to fellow black South Africans as monkeys. She deserves everything that is coming her way as a result of her offensive remarks.

As a productive, hardworking South African, effectively classified white by the state and others (despite ‘mixed blood’ in my veins), I felt threatened, intimidated and discriminated against by a post on that same platform by a state employee, stating: “I want to cleans this country of all white people. we must act as Hitler did to the Jews,” and that “white people … deserve to be hacked and killed …”

What is most disturbing in this situation is the disproportional reaction, from both the government (ANC-associated) circles and the official opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), to these two incidents.

In the case of the white estate agent the DA did not only suspend her membership but is also laying criminal charges against her. The Minister of Human Settlements‚ Lindiwe Sisulu‚ said people like her should not be allowed to operate as estate agents. The ANC said they would consider special legislation to deal with matters like these. Her former employer is also contemplating civil action against her – to mention but a few of the reactions.

In the case of the “cleans(e) the country of white people” post by an employee of the Gauteng Arts and Culture Department (GACD) there was no reaction from either the ANC or the DA. In fact, in its statement on the estate agent’s post it so happens that the ANC also linked it to Nazism.

The GACD in a post of its own stated it “… views the hateful comments … in a serious light. We will not fight racism with racism”. It, however, initially neither confirmed that the author was its employee nor detailed any steps that might be taken against him. That would come only days later.

SAHRC’s reaction

In the wake of the furore that has follower on the estate agent’s post, the South African Human Rights Commission has pledged to investigate all racism-related complaints, regardless of the perpetrator’s race.

The SAHRC’s head of advocacy and communications, Dieketseng Diale, said fighting racism with more racism was not the answer.

She also said the institution would investigate all complaints lodged, as they were accountable to the country.

The question is, is it good enough to only investigate “complaints lodged” with the commission?

In 2008 the then chairperson of the SAHRC, Jody Kollapen, said as a Chapter 9 institution under the constitution its role “is to protect and monitor the observance of human rights. SAHRC deals with both individual and systemic issues”.

This statement was made in the introduction to a report on a forum organised by the SAHRC after a complaint about the exclusion of white journalists from a meeting with President Jacob Zuma organised by the Forum of Black Journalists.

In the war of words that was raging at the time between journalists over the nature of racism in the country, one of the central bones of contention was the argument by at least some black journalists that “Blacks can’t be racist”. It led to some fancy rhetorical footwork with terms such as acceptable ‘racial privacy’ seen as being equal to ‘black solidarity’ (à la Steve Biko) as opposed to racism, which is an exclusive ‘white thing’.

No progress?

It is eight years later and it would seem, from what is happening in the social media and political spheres, that we have made very little if any progress. The silly estate agent from KZN’s South Coast and the guy from the GACD are but two examples of many, from both the non-black and black communities, that the apartheid spirit in drag is still alive and well.

And that the injustices caused by the present apartheid spirit at both the institutional and the individual level. is well illustrated by what happened to a talented and upstanding South African economist.

In the slipstream of the storm that started on the South Coast, senior and respected Standard Bank economist, Chris Hart, was sucked in and his career apparently destroyed by the whirlwind. Anyone who bothers to read the full sequence of the tweets he was involved in, should realise that he was not guilty of any racist remarks.

If anything, it illustrates how the tyranny of the present version of black-driven apartheid stifles honest, much-needed and constructive debate on important (in this case economic) issues in the country.

I do not know the man personally, but a few very trusted sources who do, assured me that he is anything but a racist and reports on his commentary I’ve read in the past have always projected him as a balanced professional.

The over-hasty reaction of his employer, Standard Bank, also illustrates how institutions buckle under the intimidation of the new apartheid spirit. In my book they stand accused of cowardice.

Conclusion

The SAHRC has failed thus far in its mission to help us build a truly non-racial society, but we have also failed ourselves as individuals and as a community not to speak up enough and strongly enough whenever we are exposed to or encounter either racism/intolerance or race-based intimidation.

On the one front I have long ago started switching off my radio or TV when a particular Afrikaans singer, well known for his racist pronouncements, comes on air.

On the other front I will be moving my bank account in the days to come – for the sake of my own conscience and not because the bank would really feel the difference. I will let them know what my reasons are, anyway.

Also read: South Africa: Frustrated South Africans Lashing Out At Each Other - IRR

by Steve Whiteman

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