Cool heads must lead the na­tion

CityPress - - Voices - Janet Heard voices@ city­press. co. za Heard is Me­dia24 par­lia­men­tary editor. Fol­low her on Twit­ter @janet­heard

Ifelt my white­ness as I walked through the crowd. I was out­side Chris Hani’s home in Boks­burg in 1993 af­ter he had been gunned down by right-wingers. Shat­tered mourn­ers glared at me sus­pi­ciously. As an ide­al­is­tic young reporter in­spired by the non­ra­cial ethos of the United Demo­cratic Front, I felt an un­fa­mil­iar un­ease.

Now, more than 21 years since the birth of the rain­bow na­tion, I have felt the stereo­type of my white­ness again. I am aware that, even when I write, I may be judged not as a South African, but as a white per­son.

It is true that many white peo­ple are co­cooned from chal­leng­ing re­al­i­ties. They share the blame for the rise in mis­trust and anger among black South Africans. In many fam­i­lies, racial su­pe­ri­or­ity passes down – un­chal­lenged and unchecked – to the next gen­er­a­tion.

This is why com­men­ta­tor Jus­tice Malala ap­pealed this week for white peo­ple to show em­pa­thy. He urged them to ac­knowl­edge, once and for all, that “those days un­der apartheid were worse than you could imag­ine”.

But it is fool­hardy to ped­dle the no­tion that Penny Spar­row rep­re­sents most white peo­ple, or that white­ness is still re­spon­si­ble for the coun­try’s cur­rent crop of woes.

When I spoke at my old school, Camps Bay High, for Founders Day re­cently, I choked back tears as I stood be­fore a hall-full class of black and white kids. How dif­fer­ent would things have been if this hall looked like that when I wore my green-and­white uni­form 30 years ago?

And yet, de­spite th­ese trans­for­ma­tional mo­ments of hope and pride, the venge­ful claw of ex­trem­ism, cyn­i­cism, vit­riol and fin­ger-point­ing has gripped so­cial me­dia.

Amid the wake-up call of re­cent weeks, we have an op­por­tu­nity to break free. A start­ing point would be to stop be­ing de­fen­sive and to open up and in­ter­act – about our roots, our prej­u­dices, our dif­fer­ences. Let’s talk about our white­ness and our black­ness.

Par­lia­ment has a role to play. Why not en­cour­age hon­est di­a­logue in a mini Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion mo­ment? MPs who have crossed the line with in­flam­ma­tory racial ha­tred should be ac­count­able to the pub­lic. Dianne Kohler Barnard should an­swer – in an open fo­rum – for her Face­book blun­der han­ker­ing af­ter apartheid.

It is not good enough for the DA or a par­lia­men­tary ethics com­mit­tee to deal with the mat­ter be­hind closed doors. The same goes for ANC MP Bon­gani Mkongi, who called for peo­ple to be burnt to death in re­tal­i­a­tion for the erec­tion of a bill­board in Cape Town pro­nounc­ing that Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma must fall.

To cool hot heads, and the air, we need lead­er­ship. We need an­other Nelson Man­dela, who called for calm af­ter Hani’s as­sas­si­na­tion.

In­stead of a race war, Man­dela led a bro­ken na­tion into a new or­der filled with hope, good­will and pos­si­bil­ity, ide­al­is­tic as it may seem right now.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.