The race for equal­ity

The sec­ond an­nual Anti-racism Week came to an end on March 21. writes that clos­ing the eco­nomic in­equal­ity gap and chang­ing ra­cial at­ti­tudes is essen­tial to com­bat­ting racism in the long term

CityPress - - Voices -

The mod­ern eco­nomic sys­tem in South Africa was, and still is, built on the back of in­sti­tu­tion­alised racism – the two have al­ways re­in­forced each other. The mi­grant labour sys­tem fa­cil­i­tated the con­tin­u­ous ex­ploita­tion of black peo­ple on a large scale. The high prof­its gen­er­ated by this sys­tem en­sured that a sec­tion of peo­ple (the white com­mu­nity) had a high stan­dard of liv­ing, com­pa­ra­ble with de­vel­oped so­ci­eties abroad. De­nied of ba­sic po­lit­i­cal rights, black peo­ple’s so­cial, eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal con­di­tions de­te­ri­o­rated to ab­ject con­di­tions, with most liv­ing in the Ban­tus­tans and over­crowded town­ships, with an ap­palling school sys­tem.

The sugar in­dus­try in KwaZulu-Natal was built on the back of in­den­tured In­dian labour. The pros­per­ity of the Western Cape econ­omy re­lied on the ex­ploita­tion of the coloured labour in the wine farms, tex­tile and other sec­tors. The min­ing in­dus­try in the former Transvaal re­lied on su­per­ex­ploited black mi­grant labour­ers.

The vic­tory of the Na­tional Party in 1948 in­au­gu­rated apartheid as an of­fi­cial state ide­ol­ogy. This ide­ol­ogy el­e­vated all white peo­ple to the level of cit­i­zens – with full par­tic­i­pa­tion in the po­lit­i­cal process, such as the right to vote and to be voted into of­fice. It fur­ther gave white work­ers pref­er­en­tial ac­cess to the labour mar­ket and en­sured that man­age­rial po­si­tions in firms were held by white peo­ple. In this way, the “poor-white prob­lem” was at­tended to.

On the other hand, all black peo­ple were to re­main sub­jects of the colo­nial sys­tem, de­nied the po­lit­i­cal fran­chise. The suc­cess of the project of colo­nial­ism of a spe­cial type de­pended on the de­ploy­ment of the mech­a­nism of race clas­si­fi­ca­tion in de­cid­ing whom to in­clude or ex­clude in the so­cioe­co­nomic, cul­tural and po­lit­i­cal process. Colour was to be a de­ter­min­ing cri­te­rion to one’s life op­por­tu­ni­ties and chances. It is in this con­text that the strug­gle against apartheid has to be viewed – a strug­gle to end racism in pol­i­tics, so­ci­ety and the econ­omy and to es­tab­lish and pro­mote non­ra­cial­ism in its wake.

These ef­forts crys­tallised into a set of de­mands en­sconced in the Free­dom Char­ter, an an­tithe­sis of the apartheid so­ciopo­lit­i­cal or­der. The Free­dom Char­ter as­serted that South Africa be­longs to all who live in it, black and white. In this way, it un­der­scored the claim that mod­ern South Africa is a proud prod­uct of the labour of its en­tire peo­ple. Thus, it is our com­mon her­itage. All South Africans must ben­e­fit from its pros­per­ity.

The elec­tion of a demo­cratic gov­ern­ment based on the will of the peo­ple and the adop­tion of a new Constitution marked the end of more than 350 years of op­pres­sion and ex­clu­sion based on race. This was an of­fi­cial end to in­sti­tu­tion­alised racism, but its ef­fects would re­main for a long time.

Much work has been done on the po­lit­i­cal front (with the ev­er­p­re­sent chal­lenges of racism, eth­nic­ity and re­gion­al­ism). While there is an emer­gence of in­di­vid­ual acts of racism, the ef­fects of in­sti­tu­tion­alised racism re­main. The dif­fer­ent ac­tors in our econ­omy (sec­tors and firms) are still largely char­ac­terised by hid­den racist bias in prac­tice and op­er­a­tions. The legacy of the mi­grant labour sys­tem still looms large in our space. The Marikana tragedy was an acute man­i­fes­ta­tion of this re­al­ity.

The need to close the apartheid wage, the re­moval of bar­ri­ers to black pro­fes­sion­als from as­cend­ing to the high­est level of man­age­ment in our coun­try’s pri­vate en­ter­prises and the speedy pro­gres­sive own­er­ship of wealth by black peo­ple are crit­i­cal to the build­ing of a sus­tain­able com­mon future. Elim­i­nat­ing racism in firms and other eco­nomic in­sti­tu­tions will re­sult in all peo­ple re­al­is­ing their po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and cul­tural agency. This is the foun­da­tion for liv­ing a richer, ful­filled and all-rounded life. Eco­nomic free­dom is there­fore essen­tial in ad­dress­ing the needs of all South Africans. For eco­nomic eman­ci­pa­tion to rise, racism in the econ­omy must fall.

Our econ­omy must serve all South Africans, ir­re­spec­tive of race, gen­der, class and ge­og­ra­phy. It must do so by meet­ing their ba­sic needs. It must re­sult in pros­per­ity for all and fo­cus on peo­ple as its rea­son to ex­ist.

South Africans must feel a sense of well­be­ing. For this to be re­alised, racism must be erad­i­cated in the work­place, greater lev­els of employment by all South Africans must be at­tained, and the man­age­ment lev­els of our pri­vate en­ter­prises must re­flect the de­mo­graph­ics of the coun­try. More South Africans, par­tic­u­larly black South Africans, must be given space to par­tic­i­pate in small, medium and big busi­nesses.

Big cor­po­ra­tions must be reg­u­lated to pre­vent the abuse of their dom­i­nance in re­spec­tive mar­kets and, in some in­stances, more space must be cre­ated for the par­tic­i­pa­tion of new play­ers.

Our Constitution en­vis­ages a more in­clu­sive and eq­ui­table so­ci­ety, char­ac­terised by the pro­mo­tion of non­ra­cial­ism, noneth­nic­ity, non­sex­ism and fair val­ues, with so­cial jus­tice and hu­man sol­i­dar­ity at its core.

An in­clu­sive and eq­ui­table so­ci­ety should be one that places the worth of ev­ery South African, ir­re­spec­tive of race and colour, on an equal so­ciopo­lit­i­cal, cul­tural and po­lit­i­cal plat­form. While much has been done to ad­vance these ideas, there is of­ten an in­cli­na­tion by some among us to re­treat to our pro­vin­cial moor­ings. This is es­pe­cially so in times of eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal cri­sis with low eco­nomic growth, stalled and de­cay­ing po­lit­i­cal process. In this con­text, the urge to pop­ulism be­comes stronger. By this I mean the ten­dency for short-cut so­lu­tions and de­ceiv­ing the mass of the peo­ple. With this come revo­lu­tion­ary-sound­ing slo­gans aimed at se­cur­ing the trust of the peo­ple.

Lead­er­ship in its var­i­ous man­i­fes­ta­tions (po­lit­i­cal, busi­ness, faith­based and civil so­ci­ety at large) is a crit­i­cal vari­able in work­ing to elim­i­nate racism and build a com­mon future. Lead­ers must tran­scend their im­me­di­ate, short-term in­ter­ests and con­tinue to pro­mote rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, broad–based trans­for­ma­tion and the idea of a united South Africa whose des­tiny rests on the shoul­ders of its peo­ple, black and white. To what ex­tent will such a so­ci­ety see the elim­i­na­tion of racism? Racism is an ide­o­log­i­cal phe­nom­e­non. It ex­ists at the level of the su­per­struc­ture with rel­a­tive au­ton­omy from the base (econ­omy). Like any ide­ol­ogy, it per­sists long af­ter its in­sti­tu­tional form has been dis­man­tled. Racist stereo­types will take a long time to elim­i­nate. Racism and power go hand in hand. The roots of racism can be lo­cated in the idea of the quest for eco­nomic ex­pan­sion by colo­nial pow­ers as they seek to con­quer other coun­tries for max­i­mum profit.

There­fore, an econ­omy that is free of racism and gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion in its mode of op­er­a­tion will go a long way in cre­at­ing a com­mon so­ci­ety. The ma­te­rial ba­sis of racism re­mains eco­nomic power re­la­tions. The elim­i­na­tion of racism will there­fore take the ef­forts of all South Africans, in­clud­ing gov­ern­ment, busi­ness, labour, non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions, cul­tural or­gan­i­sa­tions and or­di­nary peo­ple.

The education sys­tem must con­tinue to play a sig­nif­i­cant role in the elim­i­na­tion of racism and the pro­mo­tion of non­ra­cial­ism.

Broad-based eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion must be cou­pled with mass cam­paigns on aware­ness about racism to trans­form at­ti­tudes about racism. Nkomfe is a board mem­ber of the Ahmed Kathrada Foun­da­tion

Do you think eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion will help to trans­form at­ti­tudes about racism?

SMS us on 35697 us­ing the key­word RACISM and tell us what you think. Please in­clude your name and prov­ince. SMSes cost R1.50

PHOTO: ROLLS PRESS / POPPERFOTO / GETTY IMAGES

WHITE PICKET Anti-apartheid demon­stra­tors in Lon­don in 1978

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