Race is still the elephant in the room

2011-03-05 12:33

South Africans have, in the name of ­reconciliation, chosen not to address the reality and the effects of racism in modern-day South Africa.

The ­discourse over Jimmy Manyi and Kuli Roberts in the past week has been an acute ­reminder that race remains the elephant in the room. We can pretend not to see it for as long as we wish, but this will not make it go away.

The discourse has been robust, as it should be. Inevitably, many have used this past week’s events as an opportunity to feather their political nests.

While South Africa’s history of racism is well ­recorded, seldom has it been about the racism of the historical victims of racialism, which is ­probably why it has enjoyed the amount of
airtime it has.

The spectre of comrade against comrade has made for great entertainment to the public.

We have all been taken aback by the rare sight of ANC and government officials tackling each other as Trevor Manuel lays into Manyi.

Many of those praising Manuel and salivating at the prospect of Manyi being put to pasture have themselves refused to discuss the reality of ­racism.

They have been the first to accuse those who recognise racism by accusing them of “playing the race card”.

Manyi’s own infamy in some quarters comes from the very fact that he has being gnawing at the conscience of corporate South Africa over the ­misrepresentation of blacks and women in the country’s corporate boardrooms.

Contrary to what some have sought to make us believe, discussing race and racism means living in the present and not in the past.

If we can ­discuss Manyi and Roberts so heartily, then we should not be dictated to by the likes of AgriSA, which last year walked out of a summit in Somerset West because it was not prepared to discuss the brutal treatment of farmworkers by farmers.

We should equally not countenance commercial terrorism by the likes of AfriForum, which waged a campaign against Absa for asking ­pertinent questions about transformation in rugby.

We need to stress that we can find no ­mitigation for the obvious racism displayed by Manyi.

But we should be careful not to forget the ­everyday victims of racism in South Africa. A lot of this racism is covered up by a new and ­sophisticated language of exclusion.

As unacceptable as Manyi’s racism is, it is no better or worse than the forms that black South Africans in general have to contend with every day, and in every sphere of their lives.

The ­criticism by some that Manuel is advancing a rightwing agenda by admonishing Manyi in public will have merit only if we never discuss other forms of bigotry, especially the most pernicious, white racism, whose effects are felt to this day.

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