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Menings | Opinion > SeminaarKamer | Seminar Room > English > Essays

Of passion and patriotism: one group’s quest for racial harmony and tolerance of others


Jameson Maluleke - 2010-03-17

Driven by the impulse of the ages and by the spirit of non-surrender, a group of twelve white compatriots have declared an all-out war on racial intolerance.

Despite their beaming faces in one of the leading Sunday papers, members of the group expressed their concern about deep-seated racial hatred in our motherland. They formed the group because they are convinced that “in public discourse, the white voice is not strong enough in its stand against racism”. Despite their good intentions they seem to be suffering from the scourge of a guilty conscience. They feel guilty for the racial sins (real and imagined) committed by their forefathers, and as a result they appear too anxious to please rather than to solve the problem itself.

Perhaps it will interest the group’s members to know that white people are not the only racial group who perpetuate racism. I make bold to say that black people are not angels; they are guilty as well. The killing of white farmers in the past years, slogans such as “kill the Boers, shoot to kill”, to mention but two things, are typical instances of racism by black people. We are all racists; apartheid has carved us all into racist monsters. It is therefore up to every one of us to blow the wind of racial harmony into our society. However, this not my immediate concern. I am anxious to interrogate the logic behind one racial group’s conviction that they have been called to fight against racism on behalf of other racial groups.

By coming into the open, the group expressly invites any patriotic South Africa to help them seek authentic ways to uproot racism. The following extract is my contribution for the accomplishment of the group’s socio-cultural endeavours. However, I must say that since I am not a public representative, I will voice only my own opinion.

Let me start by saying that it is uplifting to note that while racist demagogues vow to perpetuate racism, a group of white South Africans has offered to wrestle with South Africa’s age-old problem. To paraphrase Neil Armstrong, this may be one small step for South Africa as a country, but a giant leap for a nation struggling to transform a racially divided society. I pray days on end for their success.

Having said that, there are some indigestible morsels for thought in their manifesto which need to be sorted out before they can proceed with their hallowed task. If the group is genuinely concerned about racism, why do they find it difficult to appreciate the University of the Free State rector Professor Jonathan Jansen for the relentless and courageous campaigner against racism that he is? The group claims that “we were struck by Professor Jonathan Jansen’s headline-grabbing gesture of institutionalized racism at the university and his moves towards reconciliation”. In their ambitious ground plan, no mention has been made as to how Jansen and the University council should have dealt with the problem. Yet “his moves towards reconciliation” are considered by the group as a charade and ridiculous?  It is tempting to think that perhaps it is because Jansen comes from a different race group.

Since the last century, community and church leaders, intellectuals, politicians and lawmen have been discoursing the age-old problem. Today’s South Africa is tired of talk shops whose organisers are obsessed only with lip service. What South Africa needs is an action programme to tackle racism head on. People interested in philosophising about racism they should approach high learning centres for assistance. Lest we forget, actions speak louder than words. Before Jansen appeared on the scene nobody was prepared to grapple with the problem. What Jansen has done is to deal practically with the problem head on rather than to wait for politicians to score points from the mess. He did not allow his vision to be drawn into an academic exercise. And as a democratic leader, Jansen came to the final decision with members of the University council in consultation with the legal fraternity and the victims themselves. Let it also be realised that to achieve reconciliation is not a mattress or a walk through the park. One makes foes and friends along the way until he attains his goal.

Let us also remember that the UFS is part of non-racial, democratic South Africa and governed by the Education Act enshrined in the Constitution. For this reason I doubt if  a centre of learning such as the UFS would “institutionalize” racism without clashing with the Human Rights Commission, and ultimately with our esteemed Constitution. The racist students did what they did on their own, and not because the University has “institutionalized racism”.

Going public and proclaiming their intention “to engage black people” is an honest and a bold step. But there is much spadework which needs to be done to level the ground. The group is composed of only white members who would like “fellow white people to join” them, which implies that this group intends to work in isolation from other race groups. They seek to find solutions for the racial problem alone as they don’t seem to think that members of other race groups may be willing to help them find solutions. It is tempting to think that once they are fortunate in finding a solution, they will drag it down on other people’s throats.

Our history is replete with white cabinet ministers who held portfolios such as ministries of Bantu Education, Bantu Affairs etc. These white ministers neither cared for nor listened to the people they claimed to represent. Accounts of whites who appointed themselves into positions of leadership to lead and did things for members of other race groups is a recurring theme in our dark history. And it is a pity that blacks, through affirmative action, are doing the same thing that was practised by whites during the apartheid era. If this is the way the group wants to do it, I am afraid they have started on a wrong footing – the project might not succeed.

For us to build a non-racial South Africa we need to involve the perpetrator and the victim. Like communication, the process of uprooting racism is a two-way process. The two parties should seek practical ways, and not just “listen fully to their stories of shame and humiliation”, to eradicate racism in our social life. Listening to their stories of shame and humiliation will only open up the scab of the healing wound; I can’t see how it would solve racism. For instance, a friend of mine was once beaten halfway to death by white policemen for hanging a young white woman’s photograph on the wall of his room at the black males’ hostel in Pretoria in 1985. The photograph was cut out of an old copy of a magazine he got from his employer, one Erasmus. There you are. Ask my friend to retell this incident; he will probably die of anger. I am convinced that this monster wants the whole nation to stand up and destroy it. Once racism is in ruins and ashes, we may sit down and enjoy fireside stories and racial jokes.

In our rural community, which is in the far north-east of the country, I have seen ordinary white people, students and researchers from various parts of our beloved country, the US and Canada living side by side with poor community members. One of these people, a young woman from Montreal in Canada, taught us how to fry chicken mixing it with slices of an orange! Apart from their studies, they helped solve community problems, including racism, without having to preach about them. In 2002 an elderly lady came to stay with us for a week while helping to establish an Aids awareness campaign. The project boasts more than fifteen members and is up and running. It has now been adopted by the provincial Department of Health. As for myself, I was brought up by an Afrikaner who saw me through secondary school until I told myself that I have had enough of secondary schooling. For me this frontal attack on racism is more effective than keeping on singing the frogs’ song.

I would advise the group members to pray and work very hard to achieve their ambition. They must forget luxurious city life, go and do something for their country, their people and lastly their Maker. However, they must never forget that every South African citizen, not just a group white people, is obliged to participate in nation-building, let alone in helping to eradicate racism.


References

Unless otherwise indicated, all phrases and fragments quoted  in the passage above are from a piece titled “White South Africa must take a stand against racism” by a group which can be contacted at whitenessgroup@gmail.com Their piece appeared in the City Press of February 21, 2010.