The end of non-racialism?

2013-03-08 00:00

IN his recent address to the Cape Town Press Club, Hlumelo Biko pointed to the increasing tendency within the ANC to “obectivise”, to “other” and to “border” non-black communities — and particularly whites. He warned that this process was not good news for those who are being objectivised.

What did he mean?

A speech by Jeff Radebe last month in Parliament provides some pointers regarding the manner in which the government is ramping up its rhetoric. In a relatively short address, he referred no fewer than seven times to the depredations of the past, using phrases like “apartheid colonialism” and “... the untold suffering, strife and racial hatred sowed by apartheid ...”

Such references pepper most policy statements made by the ANC. Whatever their historic merit — or lack of — it would be surprising if they do not stir up some degree of racial animosity or, at the very least, reinforce perceptions of white moral inferiority and black entitlement.

The message characterises whites as “the other” and places them beyond the border of “us”, because they are presented as being either directly responsible for “apartheid colonialism” or as being its present day heirs and beneficiaries. Whites are indelibly tarnished by the past, while blacks are identified with the forces of freedom and democracy.

All this raises questions about the degree to which non-racialism is still a core value of our new society, of our government and of the ruling alliance.

It is a question that was recently addressed by the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation in a study of racial perceptions in a number of ANC branches in Gauteng. The findings revealed “a growing sense of isolation and fracture among non-African constituencies” which could have “profound implications for the party’s [the ANC’s] ‘identity’ as a non-racial party”.

Although participants in the survey noted that the ANC “theoretically supports the ideal of non-racialism”, they felt that there were “significant problems with race relations within the ANC, at all levels” — particularly in branches with strong minority membership, such as Eldorado Park, Sandton and Lenasia. Among the problems were perceptions of racism and the sense that non-Africans were excluded from leadership positions.

The authors of the study go on to discuss the ANC doctrine that the institutional racism of “colonialism of a special type” can be overcome only through the “empowerment of blacks in general and Africans in particular”. This will require “the radical restructuring of key aspects of the economy so as to destroy the material basis of the white racist power structure”. This process, which lies at the core of the ANC’s National Democratic Revolution, is described by Firoz Cachalia as “anti-racist-racism”.

The “re-racialisation” of South Africa is gathering pace. The government rigidly allocates posts in the public service according to demographics — down to the first decimal point — regardless of merit or objective circumstances. Coloured employees of the Department of Correctional Services in the Western Cape are informed that they will not be promoted because they have exceeded their national racial quota of 8,8%, while 1 500 white members of the SAPS have been refused promotion to vacant officers’ posts because they have exceeded their nine percent quota. Late last year, Minister Rob Davies said that demographic representivity should also be applied to the private sector.

What we are experiencing is racial social engineering on a Verwoerdian scale where, once again, the course of South Africans’ lives is being determined by their race and not by individual merit. For all intents and purposes, South Africa is no longer a non-racial society.

The re-racialisation of South Africa is the antithesis of the constitutional values of human dignity, equality and non-racialism on which our new society has been based. It contravenes South Africa’s international treaty obligations, and it will certainly destroy any hope of national unity. Without national unity, we will have little chance of successfully implementing the National Development Plan or of addressing the many challenges that confront us, including the pressing need for a rational and workable transformation process.


• Dave Steward is an executive director of the F.W. de Klerk Foundation.

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