A LEAF FROM MADIBA’S BOOK TO END RACISM

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - OPINION - RY­LAND FIS­CHER @ry­land­fisher Fisher is au­thor of the book Race.

THERE is a quote from Nel­son Man­dela used in the movie Man­dela: Long Walk to Free­dom: “No one is born hat­ing another per­son be­cause of the colour of his skin or his back­ground or his re­li­gion. Peo­ple must learn to hate and, if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more nat­u­rally to the hu­man heart than its op­po­site.”

It is a beau­ti­ful quote and of­ten used by some peo­ple glibly to show how good they are. But these words are eas­ier to say than to prac­tise.

I thought about this a lot over the past few weeks as our coun­try once again got all heated up over racist in­ci­dents, es­pe­cially the in­fa­mous white beach video.

One of the things I could not re­solve is: how do we in­ter­nalise these words when we are con­fronted by racists?

For in­stance, if we ac­cept Man­dela’s words – which many claim to do – does it mean that we must al­ways for­give racists and try to re­ha­bil­i­tate them?

Some­times our re­sponse to racism says as much about us as it does about the racists we are con­demn­ing. When we con­demn racist be­hav­iour, it some­times gives us an ex­cuse to pat our­selves on the back and say: I am not as bad as that.

But racism takes dif­fer­ent forms. It does not have to be the way Adam Catzavelos ex­pressed his hap­pi­ness at not see­ing a black per­son on a beach in Greece.

I have of­ten heard white peo­ple say: “But he is not like other blacks.”

In fact, this is some­thing that was of­ten said of Man­dela, with those who said it con­ve­niently for­get­ting his his­tory and com­mit­ment to the lib­er­a­tion Strug­gle.

Some­times our sup­posed dis­gust for racism can hide our own racism. For in­stance, when a white per­son is ac­cused of racism, many black peo­ple do not hes­i­tate to la­bel all whites as racists. The same ap­plies when a black per­son is ac­cused of racism.

South Africa is still messed-up when it comes to race re­la­tions. Many of us were so eager to em­brace the “new” South Africa af­ter the un­ban­ning of the ANC, the re­lease of Man­dela and the elec­tions in 1994 that we moved from a sit­u­a­tion of un­bear­able and in­hu­man in­tol­er­ance and op­pres­sion (apartheid) to ubuntu, where black peo­ple were meant to em­brace white peo­ple and we would all live hap­pily ever af­ter.

But we never dealt with the is­sues that led to apartheid and colo­nial­ism. We thought that if we ig­nored them, they would go away.

Now we are pay­ing the price for ig­nor­ing the pain and hurt. More than 24 years into democ­racy, the lives of peo­ple in poor com­mu­ni­ties have not changed and they are rightly ask­ing when they will im­prove.

When they are con­fronted by bla­tant racism by peo­ple who con­tinue to live in priv­i­lege, it is un­der­stand­able that they will be an­gry. But the anger from those of us who are mid­dle class needs to be redi­rected. We need to con­sis­tently work to up­lift poor peo­ple and to­wards a more eq­ui­table so­ci­ety.

Cre­at­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for the chil­dren of do­mes­tic work­ers, shop as­sis­tants, petrol at­ten­dants and farm work­ers is what the “new” South Africa project was sup­posed to be about. Let’s move from con­demn­ing racism to do­ing some­thing prac­ti­cal about im­prov­ing the lives of peo­ple likely to be the vic­tims of racism.

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