Bokamoso | South Africans have a shared responsibility to overcome racism

Note: The following remarks are based on a speech delivered by the Leader to students at UCT on 26 August.

Over the past week the topic of race has dominated the headlines as allegations over racism at Stellenbosch University were revealed in the Luister documentary.

The DA supports the need to investigate these allegations and promote healthy dialogue between students and university structures in order to promote inclusivity on the campus.

What these allegations reinforce, however, is that in South Africa, race still matters.

I was recently involved in a minor motor accident on the way home. I stepped out of my vehicle, as did the owner of the other car involved. She was a white woman and I was a black man.

The interaction that followed reflected that worst parts of our society as she addressed me from a clearly racist perspective.

The irony is that if we had met in the context of a DA rally, she may very well have treated me differently.

But in walking away from that accident I was once again reminded too many South Africans still judge each other based purely on the colour of their skin.

This ultimately reflects the slow pace of building an inclusive society with more opportunities for all South Africans, as reflected by the issues surrounding institutions of higher learning.

Academic institutions should be at the forefront of social change and should lead the debate on how to build a united society out of a diverse population.

But the reality is that two decades after Nelson Mandela spoke of the need to “tackle the challenges of building peace, prosperity, non-sexism, non-racialism and democracy,” these challenges remain on our campuses today.

The legacy of racial segregation is alive and well even among the so-called born-free generation, with black students facing greater challenges to getting a tertiary education. These students continue to suffer from an inadequate primary and secondary education system, coupled with limited access to the funds to pay for further education.

South Africans who do gain access to university and manage to get funding often face the further struggle of not being able to afford basic living expenses and text books from which to learn.

To these young South Africans, the notion of freedom is limited in practice by their ability to access the opportunities the Constitution seeks to make available to all our people.

We cannot pretend that race no longer impacts on one’s opportunities in life. This is simply not the case. Two decades after the fall of Apartheid, race and socio-economic status continue to serve as proxies for one another.

We have fallen short as a nation to engage on this issue; the lack of dialogue on race has created a fear among us. Without constructive dialogue, instead of engaging with the best of our humanity, we are forced to respond to the worst.

We have made progress on this issue; that is certain. Campuses across South Africa have become more diverse, including Stellenbosch, but they have not become equally inclusive.

This problem is not unique to universities but echoes the broader struggle we face in building an inclusive South Africa.

It is this belief that has driven the DA’s Inclusive City campaign in Cape Town, aimed at creating platforms for residents to discuss what makes some feel excluded and others entitled.

Race remains a significant indicator of income level in South Africa, with black people still being disproportionately withheld from opportunities that most white people take for granted.

The reality is that unemployment among black South Africans stands at 39% compared to 8.3% among whites.

All the indicators point to an increase in the number of black people in both the middle and upper class. Between 1993 and 2008, the number of black South Africans in the middle class more than doubled but remained a relatively small portion of the total population. But the composition of the lower classes remains predominantly black.

In an urban environment where social interaction across racial, social and cultural divides is more common, it is easy to forget that the vast majority of the unemployed, rural population is black.

Those who live in secluded suburbs and bypass the townships created by the racial segregation policies of Apartheid too easily ignore the plight of the unseen masses who reside within them. These South Africans still suffer disproportionately from unemployment and an inferior quality of life.

Key to addressing this is accelerating land reform in order to break the spatial legacy left by Apartheid. Land reform is vital in building an inclusive society but must look beyond a narrow focus on rural land to include urban land and housing opportunities.

Importantly, land reform must be informed by the need to expand economic opportunity – such as through the transfer of title deeds – while supporting a thriving commercial agricultural sector that can protect South Africa’s food security.

The reality is that for those children born into a black household, on average they will have less access to quality services, including basic services like water and sanitation, than a child born into a white household, and will generally receive an inferior education.

This manifests through decreased access to social capital in black households, especially with regard to economic issues.

Growing up, my family did not engage in conversations about the economy and markets. In contrast to this, my wife, who grew up in a white household, speaks of how these issues were commonly debated around their dinner table.

Recently I met with captains of industry over lunch. I remember so starkly that these were once people in whose shops we got groceries and in whose companies my parents got jobs, whereas today I can sit opposite them as equals.

But in order to reach this position I had to work harder to broaden my knowledge on economic issues. Young black South Africans simply face greater hurdles to success.

These are the South Africans to whom the notion of a new South Africa has not delivered on the promise of a better life for all.

The debate that is taking place on many university campuses is fundamentally about the broader need to build an inclusive society that can overcome a divisive past, while at the same time acknowledging that we have not yet reached Madiba’s dream of “a rainbow nation at peace with itself.”

I hold the belief that the project of the rainbow nation has not failed, but we must work harder to look past the short handles of skin colour and look at who we are.

Apartheid taught us that black and white cannot pursue the same dreams, share the same fears, and hold the same hopes.

We must renounce this view for the truth is that all South Africans want their children to have a future with jobs and a better tomorrow. We all want to end to injustice and pervasive poverty.

We have a responsibility to engage with the causes of inequality and not be pulled towards any form of extremism. Racists of any kind, whether black or white, do not represent us.

This includes the need for white South Africans to engage on the topic of white privilege, as it is this issue that has driven much of the unrest on campuses and our society as a whole. The structural inequalities of Apartheid remain and give some an advantage over others.

I indeed fight against domination and nationalism of any kind. I believe in the rights of individuals and the voice of Sobukwe, who said that the colour of your skin must matter as far as the shape of your nose.

There is no place for racism on campuses, in our broader society, and indeed in our party. We cannot allow those who seek to divide us to derail our project of a reconciled South Africa.

Apart from engaging in a debate on racism in order to bridge our divides, this also requires that we break down racial inequality by empowering South Africans with the ability to take ownership over their circumstances and work towards a life they value.

The DA’s vision for our country is to build an inclusive society based on freedom and fairness in which opportunities are more broadly accessible to all South Africans.

At its core, it is a vision for a future where all South Africans are empowered with freedom they can use.

I would like to make use of this opportunity to emphasise three aspects of this vision and how I believe it will assist us in overcoming the legacy off the past.

Firstly, we must ensure that good quality education is not reserved only for those who can afford it.

The South African education system is marked by great inequality between the standard of education at private schools and wealthy government schools, and those at government schools that are mismanaged and under-resourced.

While some schools are privileged to be able to offer learners access to advanced learning materials, others struggle without even basic text books.

This injustice serves to perpetuate the cycle of poverty by denying those children who do not have access to quality education the chance to improve themselves.

While they may complete school, they are victims of a system them leaves them without the skills to get a job rendering them not only unemployed, but unemployable.

This cycle can be broken. In the Western Cape the DA has been able to improve the pass rate in schools serving poor communities from just under 60% in 2009, to 76.1% this year. The Western Cape also has the highest rate of bachelor passes in the country, enabling more students to pursue further education than in any other province.

Secondly, the DA would increase funding for tertiary education so that all qualifying matriculants will be able to study without the burden of debt hanging over their heads.

I know of many graduates who were forced to return home after completing their studies in order to save money to repay their student loans.

The irony is that while education may free their minds, the cost thereof can lock them down for years.

The exorbitant cost of getting a degree far exceeds the cost of tuition and also includes living expenses and the cost of learning materials.

These costs preclude many who qualify for university from being able to pursue their studies.

We must empower those who have the ability to study with the means to do so.

Finally, we need to ensure that when students leave university they are able to find jobs to sustain themselves.

The economic crisis poses an immense challenge to new entrants to the labour market.

The figures speak for themselves – broad definition unemployment has not dropped below 30% since President Zuma took office. Of those who are unemployed, almost two-thirds are young people.

This will not improve until our economy can sustain 5 to 8% growth over the long term. Yet the GDP figures released yesterday indicate that the economy in fact shrunk by 1.3 percent in the second quarter of 2015.

The DA supports redress and the empowerment of those who remain excluded from the economy, but this is limited by our weak economy. To accelerate redress you have to intensify economic growth.

Redress is about broadening economic participation and increasing access to material assets.

Herein we see the clear blue water between the ANC’s approach to racial integration, and the position taken by the DA.

The ANC believes that in order to redress the past we need to play a numbers game that ultimately reinforces our racial differences.

Focusing on racial quotas to bring about inclusivity perpetuates the idea that the colour of our skin is more important than the content of our character.

The DA’s approach to redress focuses on the need to expand the number of job opportunities available to all South Africans while recognising the need to incentivise diversity and inclusivity.

The success of empowerment cannot be measured by bean counters that rely on pencil tests, but in the opportunities available for the economic advancement of black people in general.

Herein lies the crux of the matter – expanding freedom and opportunity is dependent on creating fairness.

This requires a competent and accountable government that responds to the needs of citizens and acts in their best interest.

Corruption, patronage and cronyism are the enemies of freedom insofar as they serve to reward and enrich those who do not deserve it.

This perpetuates the injustices of the past by denying millions of South Africans access to even basic services and the tools required to dig themselves out of despair.

By their own admission, “with regard to such issues as state capacity and effectiveness, ethical conduct, dignity and gravitas, the ANC is losing the moral high-ground.”

The fact is that a fair society cannot exist under a government that does not respect the Constitution and the Rule of Law. Corruption breaks the link between effort and reward, denying those are willing to work hard with the opportunity to do so.

A fair society requires a government that understands that the exercise of political and social freedom is intrinsically linked to economic emancipation.

A government free from corruption, which places the needs of the many above the needs of the politically connected few.

I believe that the DA is that government.

I would like to conclude by returning to the incident I had with the woman in my accident.

There is no doubt that she approached me from a racist perspective, but in responding to her I had a choice.

We all have a choice.

We can either choose to approach racism by seeing the worst in our fellow South Africans and allow our anger and frustration to grow.

Or we can approach the issue from the foundation of our shared humanity and seek to find the common ground between us.

I believe that there are three steps that can be taken to accelerate the process of building an inclusive Society.

Firstly, all South Africans must acknowledge the significant impact that Apartheid had on the psyche of black South Africans and the pain it caused them. I would like to challenge white South Africans to engage with fellow citizens from other races towards building a better understanding and appreciation of how the legacy of Apartheid continues to manifest on a psychological and sociological level. This is an uncomfortable conversion but one that must be had.

Secondly, we must acknowledge the reality that our future, and particularly our ability to create an inclusive economy, is dependent on working together across racial lines. The responsibility of overcoming the economic marginalisation of disadvantaged South Africans is a shared one.

South Africans who fear our future must realise that the destiny of all racial groups is intertwined. By improving economic inclusivity we can decrease the racial inequality that fuels social unrest.

Finally, I would like to encourage all South Africans to learn more of our 11 official languages. The lesson we learn from Stellenbosch is that language can lead to feelings of exclusion. There is something special about conversing with someone in their mother tongue that fosters greater cultural exchange and helps to break down social barriers.

I believe that there is more that unites us than divides us. The moment we can engage in a frank dialogue about race we will realise that we share one race, which is the human race.

Race can matter, but should matter less as we address our economic challenges.

I have said it often that if you don’t see that I’m black you don’t see me. My hope is not that we are a colour blind society, but we build opportunities for all and a nation where we can see our diversity expressed in its beauty.

Mmusi Maimane
DA Leader

Share Button

About southcapenet

Adding value to my domain hosting and online advertising services.
View all posts by southcapenet →