Mayor moves to remake race relations

2015-04-05 15:00

We still have tremendous work to do to make respect for human rights a reality for everyone.

That is because it is one thing to formally adopt respect for human rights, but another thing entirely to live out that respect.

Given that South African history has been structured along racial separation for centuries, it is to be expected that history lives with us today. The legacy of apartheid cannot be eradicated in two decades.

We are not alone in confronting racism in South Africa. Other countries around the world are grappling with the legacy of institutional racism.

As such, we should not be surprised that they sometimes occur in Cape Town. As a diverse, multicultural city, why would we be excluded from global and national experiences?

Whatever the cause, it is our duty as a city government to tackle racism head-on. But doing so is difficult. It is exceptionally difficult to talk about race in South Africa.

It is the responsibility of leaders to demonstrate courage and initiate those difficult conversations.

It is the responsibility of leaders to reach out to the majority of people who are not racist and make their voices heard.

We have to ensure we lead the people of our city to reject racism, to make everyone feel included and activate a positive culture of human rights.

That is why I have initiated a race dialogue under the banner of the Inclusive City Campaign. We have to try to address racism where it occurs and act to stop it.

Civil society, business and academia should also lead campaigns to fight racism and promote reconciliation.

The role of policy interventions is to address the material conditions of many people who have been caught in structural poverty because of our history.

From the city of Cape Town’s perspective, those policy interventions include the broadest cross-subsidisation of the poor in the country and implementing the most extended expanded public works programme of any metro to create job opportunities.

Among our tools for social change – with constrained resources – those interventions remain our best.

They are the mechanisms with which we promote redress for past injustices and reconciliation.

For us, the most effective use of our efforts is to try to address and prevent incidents of racism where they occur.

That means trying to prevent incidents where people cannot get a restaurant booking because of their race.

Or where the colour of their skin suddenly becomes an issue in a property deal.

Or where they may be followed around a shop because of the way they look.

Or where they might be exposed to abuse on campus because of their race.

When such racist incidents occur, they occur because of the actions of individuals.

The city’s leadership, therefore, wants to lead a campaign with industry bodies to address those individuals within the property, hospitality, university, media and retail sectors who cannot get past their prejudice. We want those engagements to be accompanied by an interaction with all residents who want to take a stand against racism.

We want people to know that they cannot be discriminated against, their dignity must be protected and respected and they can associate with whoever they want to.

This will culminate in a panel discussion of the campaign’s key findings that will inform a commitment to fight racism and encourage a rights-based culture.

Indeed, it is my hope that we can lead residents to truly build a future that knows and understands our past but does not have to be trapped by it.

It is for a future where the individual feels empowered to be able to appreciate his or her past without being determined by it.

I hope that other metro and local governments will do the same.

This is an edited speech De Lille, who is mayor of Cape Town, delivered recently at the launch of the city’s antiracism Promoting Reconciliation: The Inclusive City Campaign

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