Race and acceptability

2008-03-02 00:00

Oregan Hoskins, president of the South African Rugby Union, is right to feel aggrieved. He played non-racial rugby and cricket in Pietermaritzburg for teams affiliated to the anti-apartheid South African Council on Sport, and was classified and treated as a second-class citizen. But now there are suggestions that he is not black enough for the post he holds.

The race card has been so brazenly flourished at the slightest excuse to advance various agendas in post-liberation South Africa that it has become a standard part of national life. It has often resulted in absurd and costly appointments. But there is a feeling that it is now taking on new dimensions and that simply being black in the broadest sense is no longer sufficient.

Critics of the rainbow nation concept have a valid point: centuries of racism cannot simply be cast aside on the strength of a hopeful slogan. Prejudice and the actions that stem from it will take a great deal of hard work to eliminate. But while this effort continues, a new form of discrimination is emerging.

This has gone far beyond the set of beliefs described as Africanist. Increasing use of the derogatory term coconut — black in appearance, but supposedly white inside — is a good indicator. So-called coconuts are often adherents of old, universal standards who reject conformist, uncritical, politically correct thought and behaviour.

One of the characteristics of the new acceptability is authoritarianism. It is to be seen, for example, in the administration of sport and the business of government. And it is no coincidence that the word nationalisation is entering debate on a variety of topics. While hard to pin down, one explanation for this definition of supposedly patriotic identity may be found in the advance of a de facto one-party state.

A recent feature writer in this newspaper asked a crucial question: what was the struggle for? It was about civil rights, shared humanity and non-racism. Those high ideals are being marginalised in present-day South Africa. For good to come of this bleak situation, a reformed political landscape that draws together non-racial democrats is vital.

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