By Danai Nhando
The violent attack of black students that took place at the University of the Free State is a physical manifestation of the volatile state of racial tension in the nation. We have been sitting on a seemingly dormant volcano that has slowly begun to erupt. Many people have voiced their outrage at the attacks but frankly I am not surprised. What happened at the university was bound to happen sooner or later.
I remember writing an essay as a final year law student challenging the idea of institutionalised equality. The Constitution was still very new at the time and South Africa was being hailed globally as the epitome of democracy and reconciliation. I argued then, as I still argue now that the Constitution created an unrealistic ideal that equality now existed in South Africa merely because it was etched in the nation’s Constitution. It is impossible to look at issues of racial inequality in South Africa without seeing the deep cuts imprinted across the hearts of the people. Somehow we thought that because our fathers said they had forgiven, we inherited their forgiveness. We believed that because declarations of equality were made from podiums amidst handshakes and ululations we were now equal. It just isn’t that simple!
There are all these new emotions and relationships boiling away that can — as we saw at the University of the Free State — be sparked off by the smallest incident. The fact is racial prejudice including an array of stereotypes, along with feelings of contempt and dislike still exist between black and white people and this generation is now facing a new battle of its own. As a black female I have wounds that are agonisingly deep that I have carried and watching scenes at the university opened afresh memories and pain points that I have to deal with knowing that resentment, bitterness and blame make me a prisoner of the past and impede my progress.
Forgiveness is a personal introspective action that cannot be inherited or passed on. Equality is a mutual action, a personal choice that cannot be institutionalised by law. Did forgiveness ever really happen and do we have a right to declare ourselves the rainbow nation if in 2016 we are watching scenes that could easily have been captured in 1976? Feelings of hatred, spite, bitterness and vindictiveness are demanding taskmasters and we are witnessing them at work in our nation. Though our deep wounds and bleeding hearts are far from healing, may we personally choose to embrace hope, forgiveness and equality bearing witness to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, one day we will truly forgive and we will truly be equal.
Danai Nhando is a human rights lawyer turned equitable education advocate. She is passionate about democratising access to quality education in Africa through open educational solutions. Danai believes that equitable learning advancement does not always require large amounts of resources and she offers professional advisory services to academic institutions on how to set up low-cost, high-impact eLearning initiatives.