JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA
WE ARE ALL COGNIZANT OF THE fact that racism remains one of the enormous challenges facing the world today. It is, though without much historical facts in backing, my belief that racism has existed for thousands of years. We witness racism in sport; politics; public and private institutions – anywhere. But judging by where we come from, things are getting better, although I doubt that we will ever live in a purely non-racist society. We’ve experienced the worst times of racism before, than what we occasionally see or hear about today.
The racist assault (at least according to some parties involved, though the university is still investigating whether the assault was racially motivated) we heard about this week at the University of the Free State (UFS) is surely a reminder that we still need to invest huge efforts in fighting racism. Here’s an excerpt from News24 on the story:
“The University of the Free State is again making the headlines with reports of a racist incident at its main campus in Bloemfontein.
In an incident that mirrors a 2010 attack, two white students on Monday allegedly drove over a black student as he was walking on a pavement and later beat him, the Times reported on Thursday.
UFS is the same university where four students made a racist video that captured the nation’s attention. The attackers allegedly tried driving over three female black students before driving over Dumane Gwebu who was admitted to hospital after the incident.
UFS rector Jonathan Jansen had doubts about whether the incident was indeed racist but the women claim that the assailants called them “kaffirs” and then drove off.
Other students have also complained of similar incidents in the last few weeks. The suspected attackers were arrested on Wednesday and will appear in court on Thursday.”
Racist incidents have happened multiple times at UFS before, at least according to those in campus. What’s even more saddening is that it happens at one of South Africa’s major educational institutions, where we aim to build and nurture the leaders of tomorrow.
UFS is led by one of the highly revered South African intellectuals – Professor Jonathan Jansen. He’s vowed multiple times to root out racism in his university. But it’s a tough mission, one that will take a long time to bear fruits. Because remember, when these students come to university, they come with the culture of hatred that’s already instilled in them. That does not mean they can’t change, but the 4 years may not be enough to convert them. For Jansen, this means he has to embark on a relentless campaign against racism in his campus, and impose severe punishments to those who commit racist acts. In fact, I just think perpetrators should be banned for a very long time from attending tertiary institutions, internationally if possible. We can never live with or even give an educational opportunity to those whose mission is to make a destructive contribution to our society.
Having said the above I think racism is quite complex, unless of course the racists expose themselves, as in this recent case in the UFS. I remember few weeks ago when I replied to one of my former class mate’s Facebook statuses, where he said he was looking forward to eNCA’s Big Debate on racism. I said to him I found the debate pointless because they were discussing a subject “that has become” opaque. You see, if one critically thinks about it, it’s very difficult to tell who is racist and who’s not, unless that person (the racist) exposes himself either verbally or in action. But today it seems every move or saying by the person of the opposite color is believed to be racist. Even though there’s no indisputable evidence to prove that. We end up taking our eyes off the ball. Our politicians play the race card on almost every issue, unnecessarily.
IS OUR GOVERNMENT CAPABLE OF FIGHTING RACISM?
I’m sure many people would respond with a “yes” to this question. But I personally think our government, led by the ANC, falls short in this fight. When you look at the ruling party in its entirety, you come to the conclusion that instead of dampening racial divisions, it rather fuels it. At the parliament this week, I heard Minister Blade Nzimande accusing the DA of undermining “black people”. And just before the launch of ANC’s manifesto in Mpumalanga last month, president Zuma went on a door-to-door campaign echoing that those who shared concerns about last year’s matric results were just undermining “black people”. Everything is being looked in a racial prism. The two people I’ve just mentioned and many others are all in government, and therefore ought to utter remarks that unite the country as they represent every race that exists in this territory. But instead, they rather resort to race on every socioeconomic issue. To be honest, it’s my view that ever since Jacob Zuma took office, our nation has become more and more divided along racial lines. Perhaps that’s what happens if you choose a leader who has no education. This has a very negative impact because we will end up taking our eyes off the ball on every serious issue affecting our nation.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
Well, yet, I think civil organizations and universities can play a critical role on this issue. So any contribution from entities outside of government can bequeath us a very positive outcome. We all need to coalesce behind those who speak the language of Nelson Mandela. It won’t be politicians, because those hawks say anything to get votes, even if it means risking the future of the country.
As I said in my opening paragraph, I doubt we’ll ever live in a purely non-racist society. But that shouldn’t deter us from making a positive input on the fight against what might seem racist in our everyday lives. Racism is quite complex, and therefore we should mind the way we speak or act. We shouldn’t end up accusing anyone of racism, just because they do or say something anathema to us. Nelson Mandela did teach us how to conduct ourselves for the greatness of our nation. Let’s apply what we’ve learned from his teachings. PM
© PHUMLANI M. MAJOZI