Race looms large

2013-04-07 10:00

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Previously advantaged must come to terms with SA’s past in order to build its future

I refer to the article “The problem with whiteness” (City Press, March 31 2013) in which Christi van der Westhuizen and Ferial Haffajee gave their opinions.

I was heartened by the fact that this topic is being discussed and debated quite openly.

As mentioned in the articles, there has been a tendency to avoid this ­topic, rendering it to secretive whispers behind closed doors.

As uncomfortable as the topic of race is, it is essential that it be ­addressed, debated and argued openly and vociferously if we are to live out our constitutional ­democracy.

Indeed, this issue should have ideally been addressed early in our democracy, thus avoiding the ­tendency for it to loom so large in our everyday existence.

A ­research project I was recently ­involved in with Impunity Watch, an international organisation based in the Netherlands, found that in South Africa, many black people who were interviewed, while acknowledging positive changes in the country, inevitably always referred to the need for ­remorse to be expressed by whites who had been beneficiaries of apartheid, while further acknowledging their privilege whether they were actively opposed to apartheid or not.

Indeed, in a recent talk given by Professor Mahmood Mamdani at the Mapungubwe Institute at Wits University, he indicated that one of the roles of the TRC should have been to train the white population to acknowledge the privilege they experienced under apartheid and play an active role in changing ­society.

There are always some whites who are actively involved in change in the broader community, but the challenge remains in ­addressing the racism that still ­exists in the broader white ­community.

The broader, national perception is that there is a lack of ­awareness by whites of the trauma and pain experienced by black people under apartheid. The challenge is for whites to actively change this perception.

The issue of race will never go away if not ­addressed. We need to start by ­acknowledging the wrongs of the past.

If this were to happen, it would contribute towards clearing the cloud of resentment and suspicion that tends to hang over many ­relationships that occur between races at work, educational institutions or socially.

The phrase ‘clearing the air’ would apply here. It could be the start of more debate and discussion.

I further believe this would ­liberate white people from “the politics of subjugation”, as ­referred to by Ferial Haffajee, and allow them to move forward as ­citizens with all their South ­African compatriots, contributing to the building of our nation.

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