This past year has made one thing very clear: Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s rainbow has been washed away by the storms of fear, rage and trepidation. All this can be encapsulated in one death blow of a word: racism.
It’s telling that it’s been twenty-two years since the historic election that ushered in democracy, and we still do not know how to speak about race. We prefer to either excuse every criticism laid upon us as a racial indictment a la a particular president, or we delude ourselves into believing that Mandela’s inauguration magically corrected all the pain and anguish of our black brethren.
Both arguments are erroneous (especially the latter argument) and do nothing for what must inevitably happen- addressing all the societal ills that the disadvantaged face, and continue to face, on a daily basis.
#FeesMustFall protests make national headlines, and we see op-eds claiming that “tertiary education is a privilege, and not a right”. This was seen as racist. In a way, it is.
When the lack of a privilege results in unemployment, crime and poverty levels increasing, perhaps it is time for people to re-think their terminology. And not just their terminology, but their empathy.
The lack of empathy in South Africa has led to racial tensions probably more than any other factor. There exists this yearning desire to focus on our shared humanity that we forget that people are going to bed on empty stomachs, and do not much care for humanity if equality is still a mirage.
In the words of the late academic Jakes Gerwel, “how do you put right a past that was so racially determined without yourself becoming racial in addressing it?”
You can’t. You just can’t.
We are the most unequal society in the world. That is the legacy of apartheid. That is the scar that it left us. To simply pretend it isn’t there (like the Mandela administration wanted us to so badly do) and focus on peace only exacerbates apartheid’s legacy. To address racism, affirmative action, the ruling parties, the Constitution, the education system and everything else that fractures us as a society – we need to talk.
Not harbouring an entitled groupthink mindset as we talk. But understanding and empathizing with the poor and less privileged.
Because their equality is our equality. Solving racism, in all its forms, leads to us solving intersectional agendas and leading us to the society we all know we can be.
That way, we heal the scar completely instead of simply placing bandages on it and hoping we’ll whitewash it away.