United in our di­ver­sity (un­til we’re not)

CityPress - - Voices - Du­misane Lu­bisi voices@city­press.co.za Fol­low me on Twit­ter @Du­misaneLu­bisi Isithunzi runs at The Mar­ket the­atre un­til June 18

United in our di­ver­sity. That is South Africa for you. But are we re­ally? Does the colour of our skin, the lan­guage we speak and where we live re­ally mat­ter?

These thoughts flooded my mind on Thurs­day night when I watched the play Isithunzi, which is based on a de­spi­ca­ble in­ci­dent in 2007 in the Free State in which four uni­ver­sity stu­dents, dubbed the Reitz Four, hu­mil­i­ated clean­ing staff by, among other things, hav­ing them drink a mix­ture that ap­par­ently in­cluded urine. The in­ci­dent was filmed and went vi­ral in 2008.

A na­tional out­cry fol­lowed the dis­turb­ing video and caused sub­stan­tial racial ten­sion.

The stu­dents pleaded guilty and were handed sus­pended sen­tences. They apol­o­gised for their deeds, which the hu­mil­i­ated clean­ers ac­cepted. A cleans­ing cer­e­mony was held in 2011, dur­ing which the Reitz Four ex­pressed their “deep­est re­gret”. Af­ter that, South Africans went back to their lives, united in di­ver­sity. The clean­ers and their or­deal were for­got­ten.

Snip­pets of the video were in­cluded in the play, and made me won­der if we’d missed an op­por­tu­nity back then to, as a coun­try, deal with the ug­li­ness of racism.

Since then, racism has too of­ten reared its ugly head, each time caus­ing an up­roar.

These acts of dis­crim­i­na­tion tell us that we are still far from rid­ding so­ci­ety of racism.

We are quite clearly still di­vided along racial lines – as ev­i­denced re­cently in Coligny, North West, where vi­o­lence over­whelmed the area af­ter a black boy was al­legedly killed by white farm­ers for steal­ing sun­flow­ers.

Peo­ple such as Penny Spar­row, Chris Hart, Vicky Momberg, Ntokozo Qwabe, Matthew The­unis­sen, Judge Ma­bel Jansen and many more re­mind us ev­ery day that racists don’t only live in small towns – they are ev­ery­where, in­clud­ing on so­cial-me­dia plat­forms, where scores – anony­mously – spend their time.

When an in­ci­dent hits the head­lines, there is an up­roar – peo­ple are an­gry; some are de­fen­sive; there is a na­tional de­bate. But only for a while. Once the dust has set­tled, we all go back to our lives and go back to be­liev­ing we are united in our di­ver­sity.

As a coun­try, we could have har­nessed the Reitz in­ci­dent for good and used it as a poster to rally be­hind and say such acts of racism would not hap­pen in our name. How­ever, would that have helped?

I don’t know the an­swer to this, but I do know that an­other re­volt­ing in­ci­dent of racial ha­tred and in­tol­er­ance will soon bring us to our feet again.

And, a lit­tle while later, we’ll go back to be­ing “united in our di­ver­sity”.

Racism has too of­ten reared its ugly head, each time caus­ing an up­roar

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