Due to unjust Apartheid laws, South Africa’s past is characterised by systematic defiance and protest against racial segregation. One would think that after numerous tragic incidents like the Sharpeville Massacre and 22 years after attaining our democracy, the country’s famous rainbow nation is harmoniously cohabiting. However, based on the recent racism related events, it seems like South Africa has not yet reached its goal of a non-racial society.
2016 began with a social media uproar following a post by KwaZulu Natal realtor, Penny Sparrow who compared black people to monkeys, calling them “uneducated” and “inviting huge dirt and troubles and discomfort to others.” An Investment Strategist from Standard Bank, Chris Hart also became the centre of a storm after his tweet was deemed racist, which resulted to him losing his job. Hart came under fire after he tweeted: “More than 25 year after apartheid ended, the victims are increasing along with a sense of entitlement and hatred towards minorities.” Many people from different areas of the country felt offended by his claim and called for his removal from Standard Bank. Soon after that a number of other racist posts started popping up all over social media, leading to unrest and an exchange of hateful remarks.
On a more recent incident, a group of students from the University of Cape Town (UCT) set fire to paintings they took from the university’s residences. The majority of the artworks destroyed and specifically targeted were of white people connected to the university. The paintings were dubbed “symbols of the colonisers” and “problematic white people’s pictures” by the protesters. This happened shortly after the students erected a shack on UCT’s grounds in protest against the university’s lack of accommodation residence for students from poorer backgrounds.
Just like the struggle heroes, some youth organisations and individuals are taking an initiative to free the country from the evil that threatens to destroy its unity by implementing strategies that aim to eradicate racism. Amidst the growing number of racist attacks and in response to the sluggishness in post-apartheid nation-building processes around issues of race, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation and the Nelson Mandela Foundation have joined forces to launch the Anti-Racism Network of South Africa (ARNSA). The network consists of more than 80 organisations from around the country, forming an alliance against the apparent resurgence of racist incidents and hardening racist attitudes.
ACTIVATE! Change Drivers, Youth Club, ASRI Future Leaders Fellowship Programme, Equal Education Foundation and many others are some of the youth development organisations that form part of ARNSA. The network launched the Anti-Racism Week, which ran from 14 to 21 March to coincide with the commemoration of the Sharpeville Massacre and the celebration of Human Rights Day.
The Anti-Racism Week aimed at strengthening public dialogue around issues of race with multiple activities scheduled across the country. The activities were not only meant to educate the public on issues of racism, they also served as a platform for South Africans to openly interact and speak about their experiences of racial prejudice.
People were encouraged to identify, promote and build on good practices and initiatives to prevent, reduce and eradicate racism. Another aim was to empower communities and individuals to take actions to challenge racism and to seek compensation when it occurs. The campaign also extended its reach to social media by encouraging users to join the conversation under the hashtag ‘Take on Racism’ and pledge their support.
Racism is like a disease that disturbs our peace and restrains our prosperity as a country. During his State of the Nation Address, President Zuma said racism is an enemy of humanity. As with many problems started by people, it can be solved by people. Young people are in a better position to lead the anti-racism movement as the modern society exposes them to other racial groups and allows them more opportunities to learn about different cultures.
Despite that, young people should be empowered with skills and knowledge on how to accept and respect people’s differences. Earlier this year, the ANC’s KwaZulu Natal chairperson, Sihle Zikalala said South African children should be taught at a young age to despise racism. To achieve this, he suggested that the department of education should ensure that life orientation currently taught in our schools has extensive content that deals with social cohesion and racism.