Time for Racism to take a "NAP"

Monday, May 9, 2016
South Africans are still good people committed to building an inclusive society based on human rights

Despite the recent wave of racist cases that had sought to divide us, South Africans are still good people committed to building an inclusive society based on human rights, writes Bathandwa Mbola.

It’s no secret that as South Africans, despite 21 years into our democracy, our life experiences, our politics and even our social circles seem more to be defined by race.

We are a nation that seems trapped by its past, a nation that seems to be uneasy about its present and or its future.

How do we explain that incidents of racism have increased in our universities and schools- where racism is perhaps the most disturbing because we expect better of our future leaders?  How do we explain that our places of leisure and entertainment, places of work, parking lots and social media are still pelleted with racism? Even in some of our homes, racism remains buried and is at its most pervasive form.   

How have we become a nation that is so obsessed with colour and the politics of race?  A nation which seems to think, eat, sleep and dream in black and white?

The recent racial rants on social media in particular, got the nation really talking.

But, do we explain this anger of race which has become the daily conversation from townships to vineyards?  Why is this a hot debate after more than 20 years of democracy?

To answer these questions we first need to find out what is it that defines South Africa that sets us apart from other countries. What is it that binds us that makes us what we are and what we could be?

For this, we can all assert and accept that South Africa is one of the world’s most multi- cultural societies.

We are known for our eleven different official languages, a multiplicity of traditions and skin tones ranging from ebony to sunburnt pink.

We are, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu once put it in 1991, “the rainbow nation.”

While views from the ground can vary like the “rainbow nation is a myth”, to possibly that the rainbow nation never really existed, to the argument that there is no black in the rainbow.

We can also argue that South Africa is a “cappuccino society”- which has black majority at the bottom with a layer of white cream and a few chocolate sprinklings at the top which could symbolise the small black elite that gained great riches after democracy.

Others might even reason that we are a “zebra nation”- that has space for black and white, but not for Indians and Coloureds or  to the fact that  just like a zebra- one cannot injure the black part without the white part suffering and vice versa.

But I want us to us to look at it from a different angle. As much as we are all angered by the various racist rants and incidents which-made headlines at the beginning of this year- they succeed in achieving one thing. The debates have forced us to do some introspection on who we are as a nation as well as how we can eradicate racism and racial discrimination.  I am also of the view that the debates and focus on racism and race are normal.

These debates are forcing us to be honest with ourselves as a nation.

They are showing us that the time for bridging our divisions and of healing our wounds of the past – which we have put a plaster on - has come.

The recently announced draft National Action Plan (NAP) to Combat Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance has come at an opportune time as it will be our guiding path- in addition to our Constitution and laws- during these dialogues.

Reading the NAP- one will realise how the plan wants to allow us as a country to engage about the race and racism issues without playing the “race card.”

The NAP is informed by the values enshrined in the Constitution and Bill of Rights as well as South Africa’s multilateral obligations.

Its aim to better promote and protect the rights of individuals and groups facing racial discrimination and to promote mutual understanding among different groups.

It does this by placing the right to equality and non-discrimination based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin in the context of public policy, that is, setting practical goals, devising programmes and activities. To ensure the achievement of these goals, there will be engaging across all relevant sectors of government and society, and allocation of sufficient resources, all with the aim of eliminating racial discrimination.

Government maintains that the NAP is not intended to replace existing laws and policies but rather to be complementary to existing legislation, policies and programmes which address equality, equity and discrimination.

“The NAP envisions uniting South Africans in building a non-racial, tolerant society that recognises its plurality and diversity based on the values of equality and human dignity through the promotion of anti-racism education, the promotion of constitutional values and the advancement of human rights, through dialogue and action,” reads the draft document.

The plan, which government hopes to adopt by the end of the present financial year, aims to promote human dignity through the promotion and protection of human rights; raise awareness of anti-racism, equality and anti-discrimination issues among public officials, civil society and the general public, mobilizing support from a wide range of people. While all of this sounds good on paper, no government policy on racism can help us root out the scourge. The onus lies on all of us to rid ourselves of racist attitudes.

This should be our collective responsibility which will see the protection of the rights and dignity of people at all levels of society.

We owe it to the many men and women who dedicated their lives to fighting for a non-sexist and non-racial society that is entrenched in our Constitution. - SAnews.gov.za