No longer just a black and white issue

2014-06-19 00:00

WHILE I agree with much of the sentiment expressed by Stephen Friedman in his article titled SA’s ticking time bomb (The Witness, June 16), my issue with racism is that it is not just a general black-white thing; it happens differently at different levels in our society, and this needs to be understood if we are to defuse it.

At an individual level, we have made considerable progress — witness the places where integration takes place among young “born-frees”: at schools, at tertiary institutions and in the workplace.

Visitors to South Africa from the United States and the United Kingdom, who are still troubled by their own racial legacies, admire, at this level, the integrity of our race relations.

These youngsters are laying the foundation; they are healing the divisions of our past.

Generationally, the picture is different. Those who grew up with apartheid, completed national service, were banned, were protected or were exiled, are still struggling with healing — a possible explanation for why mostly middle-aged politicians and journalists still obsess with race?

At a community level, we still live with the legacy of exclusion. The fact is that millions of poor (mostly black) South Africans remain stuck in the poverty trap, excluded from the opportunities to fulfil their potential and improve their quality of life.

Approximately 100 000 non-governmental organisations are undoubtedly making a significant contribution (a largely untold South African story), as is the quadrupling of our middle class.

But still, exclusion and the consequent inequality remain an ugly aspect of our struggle for social cohesion.

Institutionally, we don’t, 20 years down the road, have the cohesion.

This is a racial issue within government, business and civil society. The National Development Plan is not supported the way it should be by its stakeholders, particularly labour.

Public trust, as measured by the Global Competitiveness Report, is deteriorating.

Corruption, cronyism and graft are on the rise.

Alec Boraine sums this up by pointing out that “the ANC’s obsession with power engenders a culture of suspicion, distrust and extreme intolerance …. more concerned with the state of the party than with good governance for all South Africans.”

The trust required to lay the foundation for an open and democratic society cannot be built on the basis of racial mistrust.

Nationally, we have just participated in our fifth democratic election. The results show that we are moving away from a race-based vote towards an issues-based vote.

The ANC’s majority has declined from 69% in 2004 to 62,3% in 2014.

The DA’s support increased from 1,7% in 1994 to 22,3% in 2014. It now has as many black supporters as whites, coloureds and Indians.

I think Friedman’s article misses the different interventions required to defuse racism within these various levels.

But more importantly, he fails to recognise the emergence of a positive, confident and optimistic brigade of young South Africans, black and white, who are “over” racial stereotyping, conventional wisdom madness and apartheid guilt, and are not part of the ticking time bomb.

On the contrary, if it exists, they will defuse it — and they are our future.

• Steuart Pennington is co-author of SA — The Good News.

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