Human right ruling

2008-04-10 00:00

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has invoked the principles and values of the country’s Constitution to declare the barring of white journalists from the Forum for Black Journalists (FBJ) unconstitutional. The ruling relates to a particular incident where two radio journalists, both white, sought entry to an FBJ gathering and were prevented from attending. The particular significance of this meeting was that it was to be addressed by the ANC president Jacob Zuma. His willingness to fulfil his engagement despite what happened left an impression that the president-in-waiting of this country had no problem with this instance of racial exclusivity.

The South African Constitution also allows for freedom of association and there are clearly situations where groups of like-minded people with similar interests will want to meet together. What is equally clear is that any deliberate exclusion of people simply on grounds of race is unacceptable and, indeed, unconstitutional.

Where does the fostering of black consciousness, as Steve Biko and others have understood it, fit into such a scenario? The Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) came into being in a climate of gross racial discrimination and injustice. Its laudable aim was to foster a sense of innate worth and integrity among black South Africans. It adopted the phrase “black is beautiful”. Clearly, the FBJ sees itself in this light and therefore finds the ruling of the HRC unacceptable. Its chairman, Abbey Makoe, has called the ruling “a judicial ambush”, claiming dramatically that the HRC “is bastardising the ability of black people to confront their experiential exigencies”.

The point that also needs to be grasped is that this country is now well into its democratic dispensation where, while such experiential exigencies can be real, they carry less weight than before. It is now even more important that, at every level of society, South Africans should learn without inhibition to celebrate and express their humanness rather than their racial categories.

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