“Racial Justice is a vision and transformation of society to eliminate racial hierarchies and advance collective liberation for Black and/or indigenous people to have the dignity, resources, power, and self-determination to fully thrive”. 

The concept of “Racial Justice” connects South Africa’s struggles for dismantling racial oppression and inequity to that of global movements aimed at dismantling racial injustice and highlighting the interconnectedness of our struggles in different contexts. It is a concept that has encapsulated global anti-racism discourse and offers a necessary framework that moves from a reactive posture to a more powerful and proactive approach to disrupting systemic racism. The concept offers a collective vision for what we aim to achieve through anti-racism activism, consciousness, and action towards a just and equitable future.

In mid-November, the Anti-Racism, Social Cohesion and Inclusion project (ARSCI), in collaboration with the Youth Identity Project (YIP), travelled to Calitzdorp to engage with young people as part of its Anti-Racism Education Dialogue series. The series aims to surface the lived legacies of historical injustice and explore community-driven and youth-led pathways for positive social change in South Africa. The sessions were co-facilitated by IJR ambassadors that form part of The Memory Arts and Culture project. The dialogue space allowed us to share and listen to generational experiences of racism. Young people reflected on their role as change agents and advocates for racial justice in post-apartheid South Africa.

The week-long intervention included intergenerational dialogue between elders and youth in the community of Bergsig, workshopping the concept of “Racial Justice’’ and reflecting on how our struggles for dismantling systems of racial oppression and inequity remains interconnected with struggles in other parts of the world. It was a week of deep introspection about the ways in which some of our own internalised beliefs and social norms can uphold racist thinking. It was a week of robust debate, engagement, and necessary intergenerational conversation about the legacies of the past that rest on the shoulders of young people. Sessions also included opportunities to reflect on examples of justice within our communities and to re-imagine the just future we are working towards.

The conversation centred the role of young people in the fight against racial injustice. The final day included a closed film screening hosted by the Youth Identity Project with project participants featuring in the upcoming film about youth, their lives, their histories, their stories and their experiences in Bergsig.

South African communities face a number of critical challenges that remain linked to its violent history of racial injustice and oppression. The legacies of apartheid, colonialism and slavery persevere and are best understood through the lived experiences of black and coloured working-class and rural communities where systemic and structural exclusion, racialised poverty and economic disenfranchisement are some of the historical legacies that remain intact. Calitzdorp, a small agricultural town in the Klein Karoo, is one of those communities.

In Calitzdorp, spatial Apartheid is palpable with mostly white people living in the central parts of town and coloured people living in Bergsig, on the outskirts of town. In many ways, one could argue that Apartheid lives on in the deep socioeconomic inequities within the local economy of the town. White people are the land and business owners while coloured people (those that are employed) form part of precarious labour for the farms in the area.

Apartheid thinking lives on in the social and cultural fabric of Calitzdorp with many coloured dialogue participants sharing painful experiences of racism, othering, dehumanisation and criminalisation, particularly in central parts of town. The dialogue space proved to be incredibly useful for acknowledging this pain and for the sharing of these experiences, and for the understanding of the complexities that make up the system of racism and the subsequent imbalances in power. The dialogue space also proved to be necessary for reclaiming our agency as young people who exist in a time of global instability, socioeconomic vulnerability, racialised and gendered inequality and youth unemployment. This generation is grappling with inherited trauma, the legacies of our past and the systems of oppression that persist. This generation is beginning to experience the direct consequences of continued environmental degradation, global warming and economic insecurity. These are major challenges, deep wounds and divisions that we will have to face as we take up leadership in our communities, in our movements for change, in our faith-based communities, in the education sector, in the business sector, in government, in the arts sector, the civil society sector, and all other spheres of society.

Young people have historically and continued to show utmost commitment to transforming social and political norms that are unjust while creating space for deliberate action and change. Young people in Calitzdorp are certainly doing that and playing into their strengths, using their natural gifts and talents. Many dialogue participants have been involved with IJR Youth Dialogues on trauma and healing for some time now. Many are leaders in sport, education, dance groups, community work in the community and are involved in creating safe spaces for marginalised groups including youth, LGBTQIA+ people, women and children in Calitzdorp. The time together served as a much-needed energiser to reinvigorate our movements for social justice and to reflect on the future we are working towards. We have seen this revolution unfold before, in the hearts and minds of South African youth. We now see it unfolding once more.

Jodi Williams, The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation’s Project Leader