It is not normal for a society to be this unequal, hence we cannot adopt a classical approach to our challenges, writes Ralph Mathekga.
Vicki Momberg arrives at the Randburg Magistrate's Court with her attorney. Photo: Felix Dlangamandla/Netwerk24
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The Randburg Magistrate Court’s sentencing
of Vicki Momberg to three years in jail with one year suspended, set all
Twitter and Facebook timelines alight with a mixture of jubilation and shock.
Momberg was found guilty on four counts of
crimen injuria last year. This followed an incident in 2016, which was caught
on camera, where Momberg was seen shouting racial slurs at a black police
officer who was trying to assist her after she was a victim of an alleged
Momberg used the k-word a total of 48
times, first against the police officer then against the parole officer sent to
write up her sentencing report after she had been charged. She appeared
unrepentant after each instance of racist utterance and continued to defend
herself as someone who only said the racial slur because she was angry and
upset about crime in general, and in particular, the smash and grab incident
she had experienced.
Many white South Africans, in particular,
defended Momberg and said the sentencing was too harsh. They claimed that
Momberg was not a danger to society and therefore did not deserve to be treated
in the same way as rapists, murderers and other violent criminals.
Those who make this argument miss the
violent nature of racism and its accompanying racist insults. Words like the k-word
do not hurt because they are said in that moment alone. They hurt because they
carry intergenerational trauma as they have been used for many generations to
denigrate, dehumanise, and psychologically and physically oppress black people
in South Africa.
In order to make the oppression of black
people acceptable, it was important, first through imperialism, then
colonialism then apartheid to dehumanise blacks and relegate them to a status
that is even lower than that of animals in society.
Racial slurs like the k-word are one of
the many weapons in a large arsenal that were used before, during and after apartheid.
Racism is not a victimless crime. It is a violent crime that hurts real people
in multiple ways. At an institutional and individual level it affects people of
colour’s mental wellbeing, economic prospects and general quality of life. Many
black people suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety and
other disorders as it becomes difficult to trust fellow citizens who are white
as you never know where and when a racist attack is going to come.
People of colour also feel constantly and
consistently vulnerable to physical and verbal racial attacks and up until now
there has been little recourse for own pain and suffering, never mind
acknowledgement of harm caused.
Racism, perpetuated by institutions and
individuals, suppresses the economic mobility of people of colour and therefore
affects their ability to live the best life that their hard work can buy. In
South Africa, it has led to generations of people of colour being unable to get
and/or change jobs, unable to invest savings or seek out new opportunities or
new spaces to live in.
Many laws before and during apartheid were
created solely to stop people of colour from progressing above the station that
the white supremacist government determined they should be at. Some of these were passed before apartheid and
were merely further entrenched during apartheid.
The 1913 Land Act made sure that black
people could only own 13% of the total land available in South Africa and denied them
the right to buy land in most of their country of birth. The end of apartheid
did not end this and, to this day, the majority of the homeless and those
living in shacks and other informal structures are black. We are still
embroiled in various debates around the issue of land ownership to this day
because of this act.
The Natives (Urban Areas) Act No 21 of
1923, worked to regulate the presence of Africans in urban areas and ensure
that they were relegated to the outskirts in African locations or townships on
the outskirts of white urban and industrial areas. Most black people who move
into former "whites only" suburbs still face the wrath of white
neighbours who don’t think they belong to the neighbourhood, even when they
have purchased their houses.
The Industrial Conciliation Act No 11 of
1924 provided job reservations for white workers and excluded blacks from
membership of registered trade unions while prohibiting the registration of black
trade unions. Even today the attitude of most white South Africans is against
trade unions and see black people being characterised as unruly, violent
savages who don’t deserve a wage increase or any of the actions they are
demanding when the engage in legitimate strikes and the fight for workers’
Job reservation for whites still continues
informally with white unemployment sitting at single digits compared to the
rest of the population.
The Mines and Works Act (Colour Bar Act) No
25 of 1926 reinforced the earlier act of 1911 that reserved skilled work for
whites only but went one step further. The 1924 Colour Bar provided
certificates of competency for skilled work only for white workers. African, Coloured
and Indian workers could not be certified and therefore could not be paid what
they were worth. As a country we continue to feel the effects of this as we
struggle with a lack of tradesmen and women of colour because they saw previous
generations work hard with no rewards.
During apartheid the process of
dehumanising, undermining and oppressing black people was honed in further with
Bantu education laws which ensured that blacks received sub-standard education
in order to reinforce the stereotype that blacks are stupid and incompetent.
Blacks were also denied the right to attend university unless they applied for
special permission, which was often denied. This again served to reinforce
white intellectual superiority because if all the people you see at higher
institutions are white, it becomes easier to believe that the reason blacks are
not there is because they are not intellectually capable.
As a result of everything outlined above, black
people to this day have to work extra hard at schools, universities, the
corporate sector and other areas of society to prove that they are not dumb,
incompetent or subhuman. This is an emotionally and physically exhausting
process that takes away from us as black people, the ability to be more even
more productive and just enjoy South Africa and all it has to offer.
- Asanda Ngoasheng is an academic and
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.
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