Inequality, not race, stands in SA’s way

2012-04-07 12:48

The response of South Africa’s political and social leadership to the question of how relevant race is to our post-apartheid dispensation is arguably more fundamental than matters relating to public policy.

The only way we will ever be able to build a united nation is if each community – whether formed along political, racial, ethnic, religious or other lines – makes defending the rights of other communities part of its daily activities.

Often, race is a convenient camouflage for the real anger of millions of South Africans, which is directed at:
» The lack of qualified teachers and textbooks available for young learners in schools;
» The theft of state resources by public officials;
» Graft and tenderpreneurs;
» Joblessness;
» Incompetence in the public service; and
» The unnecessary and preventable burdens of disease and death.

The DA believes it is inequality of opportunity, not race, that stands in the way of creating an open-opportunity society for all.

So today it is inequality, not its racial lineage, that imprisons people in the circumstances of their birth.

It is inequality, not race, that limits the ability of many to empathise with the lives our fellow South Africans lead. This leads to the danger of replicating the same assumptions about racial identity made under apartheid in the crafting of our social policies.

Apartheid’s engineers treated different race groups as if they were homogenous groups. It is likewise misguided to treat “the poor” as if they are one homogeneous group.

“Class”, like “race” and “culture”, is not immutable. We cross these barriers every day of our lives.

So the DA cannot see how the answer to South Africa’s current crisis of confidence can be a never-ending debate about race.

The race refrain has the potential to sap our collective will to find imaginative solutions to complex, large-scale problems.

We believe that it is at the intersection of education and the economy that we will rebuild our country.

South Africa will not be the country it can be until we fix our schools so that every child gets a decent education, and everybody can participate in a non-racial economy.

In the DA’s shared community of values, this also means everybody has an equal responsibility to do their fair share. I also wish to address head-on a fallacy about the DA that frequently takes on racial overtones.

We know the majority of South Africans rely on public services and the power of government to create an opportunity environment.

Our desire to see individuals go as far as their God-given talents will take them does not, as is sometimes suggested, cross over into a lack of compassion for those left behind.

Yet when the DA asks about the proper role of government in promoting diversity and building social capital, our love for this country is questioned.

Diversity will flower when every child starts off on a level playing field.

While affirmative action is well meaning and necessary, it is a belated, difficult and unsustainable intervention. To help those at the bottom of society, we have to intervene radically and early.

Education is the antidote to inequality.

The desired outcome must be to gradually redirect the economy by switching from spending on social grants – as necessary as they are – to investment in lifelong education.

As a party, we act consistently. We promote internal diversity in the same way as we do a non-racial education system and economy: by expanding opportunity to all.

The DA’s vision for our party and our democracy is not an abstract construct – something “out there” – but an expression of our commitment to one another. A party and democracy characterised by non-racialism and diversity.

» Mazibuko is DA parliamentary leader. This is an extract of a speech she delivered at the University of Cape Town 

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