Racism still a feature of everyday life in SA – President Ramaphosa

Monday, May 23, 2022

President Cyril Ramaphosa has used his weekly newsletter to the nation to speak against racism which is still part of the daily South African experience.

This comes after the Stellenbosch University urinating incident where a white student is seen in a video degrading and humiliating a fellow black student by urinating on his study material.

This incident caused widespread anger that such acts still take place in a country with a bitter past like South Africa, a past which the country fought so hard to overcome.

The President said it is more troubling that such incidents are happening at schools and places of higher learning, adding that a number of the people involved were born after the end of apartheid.

“While the incident at the University of Stellenbosch may seem like an aberration – an appalling act that has been roundly condemned – the truth is that racism is still a feature of everyday life in South Africa. The sooner we recognise that reality, the sooner we can change it,” the President said.

President Ramaphosa said that racism, here and around the world, is driven by feelings of superiority on the part of those who perpetuate it.

Athough racism can be directed against anyone, he said it is black people who bear the brunt, both in the past and in the present.

“As the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement has so strongly asserted, we need to systematically dismantle and eradicate attitudes of white superiority,” he said.

The statesman said that it was encouraging and exhilarating to see young South Africans taking the lead in the effort to systematically eradicate racism.

He said that the thousands of students who have joined protests at Stellenbosch and elsewhere were not responding to just one incident but were responding to a deep and pervasive problem in society, which they themselves have to confront daily.

Ending racism

“Ending racism is not just about changing attitudes; it is also about changing the material conditions that still today separate black and white South Africans.

“We have come too far and the sacrifices made have been too great for such appalling acts of racism to turn us against each other. Rather, we must use this incident to confront the issue of race and racial inequality in our society,” he said.

President Ramaphosa said that it is government’s wish and expectation that the student population and the broader Stellenbosch university community, both black and white, find each other and rally together to confront racism honestly with courage and truthfulness.

“They must roundly reject what has happened and express their determination to achieve a learning environment free of bigotry, racism and chauvinism and embrace a non-racial future for Stellenbosch University. By so doing they will set the standard for us all,” he said.

The President further referenced a 2016 judgment on a case involving an employee of the South African Revenue Service who was fired for using the k-word at work, where Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng wrote: “There are many bridges yet to be crossed in our journey from crude and legalised racism to a new order where social cohesion, equality and the effortless observance of the right to dignity is a practical reality”.

“If we are going to cross these bridges, we need to understand what is causing racist attitudes to flourish in our schools and places of higher learning. We need to understand what kind of institutional cultures contribute to racism in the workplace, in social organisations and in communities,” President Ramaphosa said.

Frank and honest dialogue needed

He said that the country needs frank and honest dialogue between people of different races on the experiences of black people in South Africa 28 years into democracy.

“These discussions should be part of the life orientation curriculum in our schools. The arts and culture community should produce content and programming that fully reflects the diversity of the country and the lived experiences of people of all races.”

The President said that greater emphasis should be placed on inculcating tolerance and respect for diversity in the classroom from a young age.

He added that parents should be part of this effort because the reality is that racist, chauvinistic and sexist attitudes among the younger generation are often a reflection of what they observe and learn from their parents and older relatives at home.

“As many student leaders who took part in protests over the past week said, when it comes to transformation the time for half-measures is over.

“This doesn’t only apply to overt racism in schools, workplaces and places of higher learning, but to all of society. Just as racists must be held accountable for their actions, all sectors of society, including business, must advance transformation,” he said.

Rights to equality and human dignity

President Ramaphosa also touched on the rights to equality and human dignity which are the cornerstones of our Constitution. He said that building a non-racial and non-sexist society is everyone’s shared fundamental responsibility.

“In complying with employment equity legislation, in advancing broad-based black economic empowerment, in taking practical steps towards redress and undoing the legacy of our discriminatory past, we are not just obeying the law.

“We are redressing a grave injustice and building a new country in which race, class and gender no longer determine the circumstances of one’s birth or one’s prospects in life,” the President said. – SAnews.gov.za


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