Race Relations

A more balanced view of race relations direly needed


While some political parties, organisations and extremist individuals are constantly playing the polarising ‘race card’, the reality on the ground is a lot more nuanced and hopeful than the general image being portrayed.

Some observations in the past week convinced me that we can build a common community in South Africa instead of remaining just an odd, uneasy collection of racial groups.

To achieve this, we should concentrate more on individual relationships and on shared interests rather than prejudices feeding on assumed competition between racially defined groups.

Individual level

The first observation about what can and is happening at an individual level came via a Facebook post shared with me. It came with a picture (used with this article) of an elderly white lady being helped out of a taxi by a black man. The message with it (translated from Afrikaans) read:

“This man’s name is Frans, a local taxi driver. He assisted my 76-year-old grandma and her lady friend wonderfully when I had to go to work and they wanted to go shopping, but do not know the area.

“He gave them his phone number, picked them up and dropped them at home. He did not only help grandma it and out of the taxi, but even helped carry the shopping bags. Grandma is immensely grateful to Frans and full of praise for his courteous and friendly manner.

“Thank you, Frans, for the two days they could rely on you!”

If there ever were a sign how individuals can make a positive impact on race relations, this is it.

Organisational level

During recent times we also experienced that organisations, across often racially dividing lines, could take hands in consolidation against perceived common enemies or on the basis of shared interests.

We experienced the formation of an anti-corruption coalition, spearheaded by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), which was kicked out of the

ANC-aligned Cosatu, a federation of black trade unions, established as an anti-apartheid front in 1985.

The anti-corruption coalition, reminiscent of mass-based anti-apartheid movements of the 1980s, will lead an anti-corruption march to the Union Buildings on September 30.  The march will involve more than 200 organisations, from independent trade unions to civil society bodies and churches.

Also involved, and important to note in the context of this article, are the trade unions Solidarity and the Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa), with their totally different base in terms of racial mix and ideology in comparison with Numsa.

The development of the coalition had some analysts remark that it might be the sign that major shifts are afoot on the South African organised labour front.

About the developments Solidarity general secretary, Gideon du Plessis, said: “For us, if the objective is to unite all trade unions into one body, then we will be interested in joining the new federation. But if it is an alternative to Cosatu, we would not be interested because that will divide workers. There is too much divide and rule. Anything that divides workers will be in favour of business.”

The story of sport

Then, last week, came the news that a survey by the SA Institute of Race Relations has found that 74.2% of black people in the country do not believe that sport teams should be picked based on transformation goals, but rather purely on merit, compared to 77% for the population as a whole.

The implication is that when the, mainly white, civil rights organisation AfriForum and Solidarity announced legal plans to deal with racial quotas in sport they were also picking up that baton on behalf of the majority of the black population.

Also Read: Minister Fikile Mbalula – time to do his real job

It made me think back to an interview I had in 1982 with a black professor at the University of New York. He passionately attacked the US’s policy of affirmative action.

He regarded the policy as an attack on his dignity as a black man, putting him in a position where he constantly lived under the suspicion that his owed his position to the colour of his skin and not merit.

When the minister of sport militantly enforces racial quotas on sport federations he is insulting talented black sport stars and adding to the pressure that comes with competing at the highest level.


Neither the political hothead, obsessed control freaks like the minister of sport or self-appointed activists claiming to speak on behalf of communities, like some Afrikaner artists, represent a balanced picture of race relations in the country. The vast majority of ordinary South Africans want to and do get along with all other South Africans.

by Piet Coetzer

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