How to stop the hate

We must give no time to the views of those who can­not see be­yond their own prej­u­dices, writes

CityPress - - Voices -

Over the past few weeks, we have seen a fo­cus on is­sues re­lated to an in­tractable global prob­lem that has a dis­tinc­tive man­i­fes­ta­tion in South Africa: racism. This dis­tinc­tion is due to the legacy of our past and the in­sti­tu­tion­alised form that racism took, bu­reau­cratis­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion and af­fect­ing the lived re­al­ity of gen­er­a­tions.

The lived re­al­ity of this racialised past lives with us to­day and is a sub­stan­tive fac­tor in the kind of op­por­tu­ni­ties peo­ple have ac­cess to in South Africa. In­deed, we did not do enough as a na­tion to fight the legacy of racism af­ter 1994.

The role of pub­lic pol­icy in­ter­ven­tions is to ad­dress this sub­stan­tive legacy through re­dress that tries to pro­mote a mean­ing­ful rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. This means ded­i­cat­ing re­sources to ad­dress the myr­iad in­equities that are the re­sult of gen­er­a­tional dis­crim­i­na­tion that reached its zenith in apartheid prac­tices.

These pub­lic pol­icy in­ter­ven­tions in­volve a mea­sure of a so­cial com­pact. It means us­ing our re­sources to cross-sub­sidise the poor. It means ded­i­cat­ing at­ten­tion and fo­cus to ar­eas that were un­der­ser­viced and un­der­re­sourced. And it means en­sur­ing that we pro­mote the idea of re­dress in all that we do.

For ex­am­ple, in the City of Cape Town, it means in­vest­ing in mas­sive pub­lic works pro­grammes to ad­dress poverty, and in­vest­ing in ser­vices for in­for­mal set­tle­ments and back yard com­mu­ni­ties.

This pub­lic pol­icy ap­proach is not easy. It is a moral im­per­a­tive that pro­motes sub­stan­tive so­cial jus­tice in our coun­try, and it re­lies on an agree­ment from our di­verse so­ci­ety that the present is a legacy of our past that needs mean­ing­ful in­ter­ven­tions to change South Africa into a place where in­di­vid­u­als need not be trapped by the cir­cum­stances of their birth. To be sure, it is a com­plex un­der­tak­ing.

At the same time, we need to ad­dress the at­ti­tudes and mind-set of peo­ple who may not ap­pre­ci­ate that so­cial change re­quires a change in cul­ture and be­hav­iours. This type of project, which is more ab­stract but no less vi­tal, re­quires pub­lic aware­ness and com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Last year, on Hu­man Rights Day, I launched the city of Cape Town’s In­clu­sive City cam­paign un­der the ban­ner of “Don’t let racists speak for you”. Its ob­jec­tive was to con­demn racism pub­licly and pro­mote a cul­ture of rights aware­ness.

The essence of the cam­paign was to ed­u­cate peo­ple that racism was a broad and re­pel­lent or­gan­ism that man­i­fests it­self in dif­fer­ent ways, and to en­cour­age peo­ple to not ca­su­ally ac­cept the ex­pres­sion of racist opin­ions. Ex­pres­sions of racism keep us cor­ralled in a di­vided past. If we are to build a uni­fied so­ci­ety, we can have no time for the dis­crim­i­na­tory views of those who can­not see be­yond their own prej­u­dices.

But a core com­po­nent of this cam­paign was a pos­i­tive el­e­ment of ed­u­cat­ing peo­ple about their rights. Our con­sti­tu­tional order, and the rights it be­stows, was in essence a re­sponse to a racist order where rights were ab­sent. The mis­sion of our cam­paign was to let peo­ple know what they were en­ti­tled to as South Africans us­ing the foun­da­tion of hu­man dig­nity. Too of­ten, we do not call upon the rights that so many of us fought so hard for, and it was our mis­sion to cre­ate a real cul­ture of hu­man rights in Cape Town. I also cre­ated an av­enue in my of­fice that could as­sist peo­ple who felt they were the vic­tims of racism by work­ing with part­ner bod­ies and in­sti­tu­tions. We are see­ing part of the virtue of pub­lic aware­ness in some of the in­ci­dents of the past few weeks, where ac­tion has been taken against those who cause of­fence. I am pleased to say that the sec­ond part of our cam­paign, which in­volves our coun­cil­lors work­ing in our com­mu­ni­ties to pro­mote these mes­sages and en­gage with their con­stituents, will be in­tro­duced in the next few weeks.

But as the de­bate about racism in South Africa con­tin­ues, per­haps we should all be wary of re­sponses that do not take into ac­count the mech­a­nisms avail­able to us through the Con­sti­tu­tion, chap­ter 9 in­sti­tu­tions, equal­ity courts and le­gal pro­tec­tions.

These mech­a­nisms – these rights – are real and avail­able to all South Africans. We should pro­mote them and learn how to ac­ti­vate them more of­ten while work­ing to­wards a changed cul­ture that em­braces rec­on­cil­i­a­tion in a coun­try where peo­ple claim their rights for them­selves and oth­ers.

De Lille is mayor of Cape Town

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