Guest Column

'Colour blindism' is a poisoned chalice

2019-01-16 10:55

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The racial incidents of the recent past that have captured headlines expose shocking levels of intolerance among different race groups on the basis of culture and religion, writes Zizi Kodwa.

On 8 January 1972, the ANC published its first ever January 8th Statement wherein it articulated the racial orientation of our liberation struggle when it said, "We must call attention to the specific and concrete form which racism assumes in South Africa, and render it necessary that in its South African version this racism should be defined and identified in simple, tangible and realistic terms. The African – the Black man – the Indian and Coloured – all these people, these human beings, live and suffer misery, humiliation, discrimination, exploitation and political oppression at the hands of other people, other human beings." 

47 years on, the Occupy Clifton Beach movement in Cape Town is a stark reminder of how far we have come, yet how little has changed in relation to how our white counterparts regard us. At the dawn of our democracy, we broke down the barriers that separated us on racial terms, legalised by apartheid laws such as the Group Areas Act, the Separate Amenities Act, given loud expression by signage in public spaces that proclaimed "Blanke Gebied" amongst many other obscene signs.

READ: Clifton 4th and what it says about our country

As we celebrate 107 years of selfless struggles to build a South Africa where all her citizens peacefully co-exist and not regard each other in racial terms, we must reject the notion of "colour blindism" that seeks to displace the goal of a non-racial society the ANC seeks to build. This is a polarising tactic that the Democratic Alliance (DA) has come to champion in post-apartheid South Africa, which seeks to deny race as an important element of our national kaleidoscope. 

The ANC recognises that race and culture are important characters of our national diversity from which we should draw strength and pride as a nation. 

The racial incidents of the recent past that have captured headlines expose shocking levels of intolerance among different race groups on the basis of culture and religion. Perhaps it is time we pause and ask, to what extent do municipal by-laws perpetuate these attitudes and further polarise our communities.

We cannot deny that the Clifton beach incident laid bare the perpetuation of divisive policies that continue to favour public amenities that favour affluent and predominantly white communities at the expense of their poorer and mostly township-based communities.

We must hasten to state without equivocation that as a society we must not allow these isolated incidents to undermine and reverse the progress we have made and build a South Africa that truly belongs to all her citizens across the racial, religious or cultural divide.

Our former president, Nelson Mandela, addressing the United Nations Special Committee Against Apartheid in 1990 aptly articulated the ANC's vision when he said, "We recognise too, that reconciliation and nation-building would remain pious words if they were not premised on a concerted effort to remove the real roots of past conflict and injustice." 

Nelson Mandela's wisdom and his dedication to the founding values of the ANC continues to inspire our forward momentum without being blinded by the false narrative of colour blindism.

Perhaps the latter-day incidents are a symptom of how far we've come as a nation and a yardstick of the path we have yet to traverse. Ours is a vision of a society where non-racialism is its defining character. Cultural diversity is an important thread that binds together the fibre of our nation. We must all embrace that the only path towards the realisation of a nation-state that is truly emancipated is the acceptance that co-existence is a necessary ingredient. 

The Clifton incident is a warning that we should avoid papering over cracks of racial polarisation and make a genuine effort to find each other across the cultural and racial divide. In confronting the realities of the latter day, we need to address the notion of public assets that become the exclusive preserve of one race group at the expense of another. 

To what extent have we created enabling conditions for different religious and cultural groups to practice their religion and culture freely, while equally respecting the rights of others?

The liberation movement led by the ANC diligently led the struggle for non-racialism and mobilised society around this vision. The democratic government gave practical expression to this ideal and put in place building blocks that support our initiatives. 

The demon of colour blindism must be rejected with the contempt it deserves, as it seeks to lull us into a false sense of achievement, while we inadvertently embrace denialism. We must justifiably denounce with outrage and anger all incidents of racism wherever they occur. 

READ: The people cannot eat manifestos

If what came to pass at Clifton beach represents a microcosm of a bigger problem fuelled by municipal by-laws of the City of Cape Town, we must then sit up and pay attention and direct our efforts towards the creation of a society that embraces our diversity. It can never be that more than two decades into our democracy, municipal by-laws remain an impediment to racial and religious co-existence.

Our liberation struggle did not only liberate black people, but also liberated white people from their own bondages. As we celebrate 107 years of selfless struggles as a leader of society, we must renew our commitment to the realisation of a South Africa that is truly non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous. 

These are ideals that are sacrosanct to the life of the ANC and define its character. Every citizen must embrace the call to make a meaningful contribution towards building a society that embraces our national diversity in the spirit of Thuma Mina.

- Kodwa is the ANC head of presidency.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    da  |  anc  |  south africa  |  racism
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