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The unilateral road towards nation-building: Danger signs ahead

By Gugu Ndima

I was intrigued by a very innocent, captivating picture on the front page of two major publications. Two “born free” young South Africans who represent diversity in SA were nicely captured. The picture alone tells many tales; at first glance it’s perfect and void of sin or pretence. It’s a picture of hope for nation-building, and for anyone seeing the picture without reading the story, they could easily be deceived into thinking that we have perfectly managed to achieve diversity and finally have a non-racial society where black and white South Africans can now gather around a camp fire and sing Kumbaya. “Wow, South Africa has arrived,” I say to myself, until I read the story behind the crocodile grins of the two young ladies.

These two models were in a racist spat on a social network recently. They allegedly kissed and made up and the cynical Kodak moment, organised by the affirmative action representative of the DA, was captured on the front page of many newspapers. As expected of South Africans, we had a teary moment of artificial reconciliation and pretended that the evil step sister named “Racism” was dead and gone – again.

Are we gullible or we do have our heads so deep in the sand that it’s unbearable to even think of confronting racism in our society head-on? Every time we hear ranting reported, we again get angry and are reminded of the good old beast. This week, over and above the models and the Cape Tech student incidents, FW de Klerk took the overall standing ovation when he asserted on CNN that deep down, there are deeply entrenched beliefs that whites still reign supreme. His words were short of saying that the apartheid government actually did blacks a favour and made them vote (in their bush homelands where they belong, I guess).

This then made me wonder where this insurrectionist behaviour, especially on race, stems from with the “born free” generation. Where do the likes of Ken Sinclair and Jessica Leandra derive their resentment and condescending attitude for fellow black South Africans? Not so long ago we were tackling the Reitz Four case as a nation. The truth is that this is the exact teachings disseminated at their homes over dinner, in churches, and in their social gatherings when there is no black ear to listen except for, possibly, the domestic worker.

The FW de Klerks of this world can never see blacks as equal fellow human species. The generation after them and their grandchildren can only pass on this institutionalised thinking to their future descendants. Supremacy runs in their veins, religion and way of life. The mere fact that Jessica was audacious enough to post such a criminal statement without thinking simply means that this word is right at the tip of her tongue, used daily, for which she has never been reprimanded for until recently. Hence her shock at the public’s reaction – simply because in her community and immediate social network this is a way of life. This is how they view blacks. The question is, what are their parents teaching them?

In South Africa, 18 years post democracy, we have a place called Orania that epitomises racial segregation and sustains separatism (within a democratic country) in this day in age. These spontaneous slurs are a deeper reflection of the rage and re-emergence of racial tensions. We can’t hide from it any longer; we can’t glosscoat it through TV adverts and politically correct tip-toeing. We now have a younger generation, supposedly “born-free”, who have been severely contaminated and will not be kept silent. Tshidi Thamana is most probably not even politically active, but for that moment, she made sense of some slogans of the late comrade Peter Mokaba from the apartheid years, because she actually had a taste of racial intolerance and blatant attacks on her being by a white counterpart. I doubt she said this because she is racist, but she responded to the arrogant tone and statement made by Jessica Leandra demeaning a black man publicly and showing no remorse. It’s highly simplistic to say that she was racist – she is no different from blacks in the 70s responding to the draconian rule of the apartheid regime which belittled and undermined blacks.

We can do all sorts of reconciliation/PR exercises to cover up isolated slurs, but this does not address the undercurrent beneath the calm surface. If a cabinet minister can call his black colleagues Bantus or use that word as a reference in this day in age, what does he teach his children?

As a nation we haven’t achieved racial harmony. It has been mere tolerance, imposed to a large extent by the law. It has not been voluntary and as a nation we have bought into fragile non-racialism through Vanity Fair-like “nation building” events such as the rugby and soccer world cups. The road has been a unilateral one where, consistently, its blacks who accept apologies, blacks who are victims of racially motivated crimes, black workers who are exploited in companies. It’s consistently been the black hand that must hold out the white flag to keep the nation-building torch alive. Hence these slurs – both parties are not coming to the table equally.

If it wasn’t for affirmative action, black economic empowerment, employment equity, and generally the Constitution, many whites would have been happy with keeping the apartheid status quo, even though some don’t expressly say it. Most complaints about government come from the white section of society. Honestly speaking, the democratic government is worse compared to what previous government or regime in South Africa? The apartheid government? This is the only government in SA that has initiated inclusivity of all races, that has championed non-racialism despite conceited efforts to undermine it. Non-racialism will perpetually be a vision if we fail to address societal factors which still assert racial stereotypes such as “white supremacy”. Blacks in their majority are still poor and marginalised in the mainstream economy. Racial spatial disintegration still exists due to historical socio-economic imbalances – and one can still distinguish between a township and a suburb.

The judiciary, unfortunately to a very large extent, still plays (wittingly or unwittingly) an instrumental role in maintaining the apartheid status quo. Organisations such as AfriForum have never been apologetic about their views and what they stand for (i.e. to preserve historical memorabilia which has no place in the current dispensation). They managed to singlehandedly wipe out a significant piece of history – the Dubulíbhunu song – through the courts. They continue to use the courts to undermine transformation as their power base is still largely economical, and many economically powerful beings share their views in silent corners. So since access to the justice system still largely depends on one’s economic base, it is accessible by a few to maintain and preserve traces of our dark past.

The likes of Tshidi, Ken and Jessica are the new generation of racists who have access to social networks and can take the fight to uncontained places. One wonders how many other “born-frees” who have inherited such abhorrence for their fellow South African citizens exist. We should be apprehensive rather than passive; this should be a lesson for all South Africans that racism is a stark reality, and our failure to deal with it will only create an unnecessary burden for future generations.

Gugu Ndima is the media and communications officer of the ANC caucus in the Gauteng legislature. She writes in her personal capacity.

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