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Tackling racism and sexism

As I read an article about the alleged racist remarks made by Badih Chaaban, a controversial Cape Town city councillor, I thought to myself: I have heard worse in Mitchells Plain and Hanover Park.

Chaaban had apparently called mayor Helen Zille a “f***ing b**ch”, Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille a “coloured k****r” and said it was time for the Jews to be “f***ed” again.

This was the findings of a city-council report that has now been sent to the city’s disciplinary committee and provincial minister for housing and local government.

The Chaaban report, of course, came a few days before the vital floor-crossing period, which allows councillors and other elected public representatives to ditch their original parties and join up with whoever they now feel comfortable.

Chaaban has been actively working behind the scenes and is determined to unseat DA leader and Cape Town mayor Zille from office, so the report containing his alleged racist and sexist remarks must be seen in that light.

Vile as Chaaban’s alleged comments might seem, I have heard worse in many areas of the Cape Flats. And the reality of our situation is that Chaaban probably echoes the views of many people on the Cape Flats. He might even be echoing the views of many other people throughout South Africa.

In some ways, and this is probably what the DA-led city administration realises, Chaaban’s alleged comments would probably endear him to some of the people it expects to vote for it.

In many areas of the Cape Flats, it is almost accepted, and in some cases even expected, that one would use terms such as the “k” word. Derogatory words to describe women are quite common too. The sad thing is that many of the people who use these words don’t even realise that they are derogatory.

How do we, as a society, deal with this kind of language? Is it the job of the government to outlaw such terminology or is it possible to educate people about the potential harmful effects of such terms?

I have always believed that it is best for people to utter these words in public rather than in private. At least, when they use these words in public, they can be challenged publicly and hopefully also educated about why these words are harmful.

When they use these words in private, there is normally nobody to chastise them and they can get away with it, without realising that they might have caused harm.

I also believe that the only way to deal with racism is head-on. If somebody is racist, I would like to be able to confront him or her. However, if they practise their racism in private, one cannot do that.

It is sad that people like Chaaban can say the things that he is alleged to have said. It is even sadder that there are people out there who agree with what he has said and might even be encouraged to vote for him.

It is up to those of us who have a different value system and who find racism and sexism repulsive to educate these people so that racism and sexism can be totally eradicated.

This, unfortunately, will not be an easy task.

Author

  • Ryland Fisher is former editor of the Cape Times and author of the book Race. This is his second book, following on Making the Media Work for You, which was published in 2002. He is executive chairperson of the Cape Town Festival, which he initiated while editor of the Cape Times in 1999 as part of the One City Many Cultures project. He received an international media award for this project in New York in October 2006. His personal motto is "bringing people together", which was the theme of One City Many Cultures. It remains the theme of the Cape Town Festival and is the theme of Race. Ryland has worked in and with government, in the media for more than 25 years, in the corporate sector, in NGOs and in academia. Ultimately, however, he describes himself as "just a souped-up writer".