South Africa Racism


Racism alive and kicking in South Africa
As South Africa prepared to mark its Human Rights Day on March 21, a series of incidents early this week in the town of Grabouw, in the Western Cape, blew the lid off the underlying racial tensions that continued to exist in nearly every part of the country.
March 21 is no ordinary day, especially for South Africa. It has a special place globally as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which was first declared in 1966 to commemorate the lives of anti-apartheid demonstrators, who were killed in the South African town of Sharpeville.
Because of March 21, this week’s violence in Grabouw should have taken on poignant significance, not just in South Africa, but perhaps around the world. It did not.
What started as a protest against overcrowding in a school attended by largely black children in Grabouw, turned into a racial spat when a mixed-race man (commonly known locally as coloured) stabbed a black counterpart, according to an eyewitness account, reported in the South African media.
The black community then apparently retaliated by trying to burn down a school attended by children of their coloured counterparts. Eventually, because either group mobilised significant numbers, it exploded into a bloody racial fight that took the intervention of the police to break up.
But by then, significant damage had already been done. According to reports, three classrooms were vandalised, a storeroom nearly torched, 14 people injured and at least 21 others were taken to court and reportedly charged with causing public violence.
One newspaper said the Grabouw incident “called to mind the raw and angry violence of apartheid in South Africa”.
This is arguably the most blatant assessment of its seriousness. Beyond that article, however, one was hard pressed to find any soul searching or condemnation of an incident that, in many other countries, would have provoked a reaction from the population and concern within the government.
Instead, as the mainstream media and the government turned a blind eye and deaf ear to an otherwise serious issue, it seemed to have been abandoned to the tabloids to milk the sensation out of whatever was left of it.
Yet, as the Grabouw incident showed, South Africa was far from healing from the racial discrimination whose worst days were during the apartheid regime, which was dismantled just about two decades ago (between 1990 and 1994 when the country became independent).
Many of South Africans that one speaks to, believe racism was still festering beneath the façade of a politically maturing nation. Different races still lived in exclusive white or black communities. The black community believed their white counterparts still controlled most of the wealth, the white community believed their black compatriots had most of the political power and were misusing it, and marriages remained a no-go area.
In late January, the Democratic Alliance Student Organisation (Daso), an offshoot of one of the leading political parties in South Africa, sent out a poster of a semi-naked man and woman in embrace. Below the two were the words: “In our future, you wouldn’t look twice.”
Almost immediately, the poster drew a controversy across South Africa, with several heated discussions being held on radio and social media. The main reason for the controversy was that it was a white man embracing a black woman.
Since then, Daso had come up with several other similar posters related to the same issue. The Daso leaders later said they had achieved exactly what they intended, which was to get South Africans talking about an issue many of them often would rather not.
In one explanation on why they started the campaign, DA Youth leader Makashule Gana said: “The country is still polarised along racial lines. The important thing is that people are talking. We have achieved what we wanted; we can’t always bury our heads in the sand and pretend as if race is not a factor.”
It will take more than such posters for South Africa to openly face the elephant in the room. Which is why incidents like this week’s racial war in Grabouw needed to be taken seriously as evidence of dirt that, though swept under the carpet for convenience, needed to eventually be taken out of house.

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