United against racism

By Published On: 12th April 2019

Racial incidents are too often present in the South African Media. Incidents such as these include the segregation of learners at a school in Scweizer Reneke and racial tensions at Clifton Beach. They do not end here. They extend to the racialized discourse surrounding the deaths of pupils at DrieHoek Highschool as well as the racialized discourse which underscored the clashes between individuals from Mitchell’s Plain and those from the Sisaqalo informal settlement. What is clear from these incidents is that racism is still rife in South Africa. What is required are active programmes which seek to eradicate the scourge of racism within our society.

To combat this deep-rooted problem, the week which ran from the 14th till the 21st of March was earmarked as anti-racism week. The organizers of this week are the Anti-Racist Network of South Africa. This year, the slogan under which this organization hoped to unite the nation in active dialogue was “#unitegainstracism.”

This annual week is aimed at creating public awareness around racism and how it affects individuals and broader society, whilst also ensuring that there is a countrywide focus on tackling racism and making sure that it remains on the nation’s agenda. While this week is initiated by the Anti- Racist Network of South Arica, its aim is to get all sectors of society involved and to encourage self-initiated activities.

Key to the elimination of racism is the breaking down of the racist sterotypes. One of the ways this is achieved is through the creation of meaningful connections between different racial groups. This contact however needs to occur under the correct conditions. These conditions include where there is equal status, inter group-cooperation, common ground and support given by social and institutional authorities.

A crucial point to make is what is meant by the term “meaningful connections”. Connections within the anti-racism week involved individuals actively listening to stories of how institutional racism still marginalizes youth within our nation. They extended to how perceptions of individuals from different race groups can change through the tools of storytelling and poetry. The ultimate aim of such meaningful dialogue is to leave individuals who exit these dialogues with a broader perspective filled with empathy and seeing the value in others whilst restoring dignity to those who feel marginalized.

With regards to the question of racial integration the South African Reconciliation Barometer (facilitated by the IJR) shows that the barriers to integration seem to be falling in South Africa, with 38 % of those surveyed reported that they did not have any difficulties interacting with people from different racial groups. A caveat to this figure is that 26.9% of the total respondents said that they found it most difficult to integrate with White South Africans.

However, the issue of whether this integration actually occurs in practice is another task altogether. The same barometer found that 52% of South African report that they rarely or never interact with other race groups in their personal living spaces. This non-interaction with people of other race groups lowered slightly to 46.6 % when respondents were asked about their integration with individuals of different races in social gatherings.

How then, with the barriers to integration being so low, is this integration not happening? Can this be attributed to the sheer lack of will on the part of South Africans to interact with people who belong to a different race?

One of the answers to this question could be the lack of trust that individuals from different racial groups have with one another in South Africa. The South African Reconciliation Barometer found in 2015 that 67.3% of all respondents noted that they have little to no trust of their fellow citizens who form part of a different racial group. Amongst all the racial groups surveyed, black respondents displayed the highest levels of mistrust in other races,.  at 68.9 % of those surveyed.

The initiatives spearheaded under anti-racism week included dialogues which took place on the 16 March 2019, across the Western Cape. These intra-race dialogues took place in Elsies River, Westbank, Langa, Khayelitsha, Oudshoorn, Doringbaai, Atlantis, Cape Town and were attended by members of the community. The dialogues were facilitated by members of the Siyakha Forum, as well as other community organizations. The objective was to discuss issues of racism, how it can be eliminated within society, and how we as individuals can be agents of change in our communities and society in general.

The sentiments and ideas which are born from these discussions and dialogues were brought together by all the respective facilitators when they met on Humans Rights Day at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation. On this day the facilitators discussed themes that emerged in their respective dialogues, with the ultimate goal of creating initiatives which are coordinated and organized to address racism.

The insights which came from this meeting were really surprising. Firstly, the fact that the dialogues were intra-racial proved beneficial as individuals felt that in these settings, they could open up quickly and did not feel as though they had to watch what they were saying or tread on egg shells. It also allowed the groups in question to engage in conversations which are specific to their particular racial group and are nuanced in nature. For example, in the dialogue with white participants, the issue of English and Afrikaans speaking white people having lasting animosity towards one another was brought up, whilst within the dialogues with black-African participants, the animosity between different cultural groups was discussed.

Secondly, all race groups commented on how beneficial and amazing the insights were which younger individuals brought to the discussions. However, there is a caveat to this. It was noted that across all the dialogues there was no representation from the 25-36 age group, which is something that needs to be investigated.

Thirdly, facilitators agreed unanimously, that an intersectional approach should be taken and when this approach was used, they noticed that it is women who bear the brunt of racism in society. It is recommended that further intra-racial dialogues should include   an individual from a different race groupto be a “circuit breaker”. There is also the need to bring in individuals who hold different ideological views, and not just individuals having conversations with people who are like minded.

In conclusion one of the facilitators eloquently pointed out that key to the eradication of racism is the breaking down of the distance between different races, and that it is in this distance that racism and its associated ideologies thrive. The way to narrow these divides is through sustained dialogue.

Mikhail Petersen holds a Bachelors of Social Science degree in Politics and Economic History as well as an LLB from UCT. Mikhail is an intern within the Sustained Dialogue Programme at the institute for Justice and Reconciliation, based in Cape Town. 

Article first published by Voices360

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