Dear fellow South African,
The country has, in recent days, been outraged to see a white student at Stellenbosch University insult and humiliate a black student, including one in a heinous act.
In a country with a bitter past like ours, there is widespread outrage that such activities are still taking place; A past that we have fought so hard to overcome.
It is even more worrying that such incidents are happening in schools and places of higher learning. Several people involved were born after the end of apartheid.
While the Stellenbosch University incident may seem confusing – a horrific act that has been widely condemned – the fact remains that racism is still a feature of South African daily life. The sooner we recognize that reality, the sooner we can change it.
We know that racism, here and around the world, is driven by a sense of superiority on the part of those who perpetuate it. And although racism can be directed against anyone, it is black people who suffer at the hands of both the past and the present. As the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement has strongly emphasized, we need to systematically break and eradicate the attitude of white supremacy.
Encouraged and delighted to see young South Africans take the lead in this endeavor. The thousands of students who joined the protest at Stellenbosch and elsewhere did not respond to a single incident.
They were responding to a deep and wide-ranging problem in our society, which they have to deal with on a daily basis.
As Kwenzokuhle Khumalo, a 4th-year management science student and leader, told students at the Stellenbosch campus this week: “You’ve met the wrong generation this time.”
Like the youth of 1976, a new generation of young South Africans is moving forward to declare their birthright and restore their future. They are challenging society to tackle racism, its causes and its effects. As Mrs. Khumalo rightly said, it is not black people who have problems and needs their attention, but who still hold the idea of white supremacy.
It cannot be that in order to advance reconciliation, one has to rest with the former victims as the main victims of racism.
It cannot be that black South Africans have to prove themselves worthy of dignity and respect.
In a 2016 ruling in a case involving a South African Revenue Service employee who was fired for using the word K in the workplace, Chief Justice Mogweng Mogweng wrote: Racism is a new system where the right to social cohesion, equality and dignity is a reality. ”
If we are to cross these bridges, we must realize that racist attitudes are developing in our schools and places of higher learning. We need to understand what kind of institutional culture contributes to racism in the workplace, in social organizations and in communities.
We need open and honest dialogue between people of different races about the experience of black people in South Africa in 28 years of democracy.
These discussions should be part of our school life curriculum. The art and culture community should create content and programming that fully reflects the diversity of the country and the living experiences of people of all castes.
Emphasis should be placed on inculcating tolerance and respect for diversity in the classroom from an early age. Parents should be part of this effort because the reality is that racist, anarchist and sexist attitudes among the younger generation are often a reflection of what they see and learn from their parents and older relatives at home.
Many student leaders who took part in the protests last week said it was time to take action when it came to transformation.
This applies not only to open racism in schools, workplaces and places of higher learning, but to all societies. Just as racists must be held accountable for their actions, so all sectors of society, including business, must advance transformation.
The right to equality and human dignity is the cornerstone of our constitution and our fundamental responsibility to build an ethnic and non-gender society.
In complying with the Employment Equity Act, in advancing broad-based black economic empowerment, in remedying our discriminatory past legacy, and in taking practical steps to undo it, we are simply not obeying the law.
We are remedying a serious injustice and building a new country where race, class and gender no longer determine one’s birth situation or life expectancy.
The end of racism is not just a change of attitude; It is also about the change in material conditions that still separates black and white South Africans today.
We have come a long way and the sacrifices that have been made for such horrific acts of racism to turn us against each other are far greater. Rather, we need to use this phenomenon to address the issue of race and ethnic discrimination in our society.
It is our desire and expectation that the student population and the larger Stellenbosch University community, both black and white, find each other and come together with courage and truthfulness to confront racism honestly. They must reject what has happened and express their determination to achieve an educational environment free from bigotry, racism and anarchy, and embrace a non-racial future for Stellenbosch University. By doing this they will set the standard for all of us.