- President Cyril Ramaphosa says race relations in South Africa are not as toxic as people think.
- He says he was inspired by a photograph in the popular #ImStaying Facebook group of a white woman resting her head on the shoulder of a black woman.
- Ramaphosa says such a scenario would have been unthinkable a few decades ago.
President Cyril Ramaphosa says while divisions of race and class remain very real in South Africa, race relations in our country are "not as toxic as we are often led to believe".
Ramaphosa's weekly newsletter ahead of Reconciliation Day on Wednesday centred on how race relations in the country had improved since the fall of apartheid.
Ramaphosa said he was inspired by an image that appeared on the popular #ImStaying Facebook page. In the picture, two women are seated side by side at a bus stop somewhere in Cape Town. One is white, elderly and frail, and rests her head on the shoulder of the younger black woman.
"This simple image, of these two women sitting there with their hands locked tightly, resonated deeply with me as we approach Reconciliation Day on 16 December," Ramaphosa said.
He added that such a scenario would have been unthinkable in South Africa just over three decades ago.
"On Reconciliation Day each year, we reflect on how far we have come in advancing national reconciliation. It is important that we deal decisively with the obstacles to reconciliation, among them the high levels of inequality in our country and the persistence of racist attitudes and practices," Ramaphosa said.
"But it is equally important to acknowledge just how vastly different our country is today to what it was 26 years ago. For every negative story of racism that makes the news, there are countless other positive stories of racial integration, communities living in harmony and social cohesion that do not generate headlines."
The president said many examples can be found on the #ImStaying thread. "They are simple, everyday stories of South Africans living and working alongside each other, being friends, and helping each other."
Race relations have improved
Citing the National Reconciliation Barometer, published by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, Ramaphosa said the optimism of respondents regarding racial unity was the highest since the inception of the study. It also found that the majority of respondents believed race relations had improved since 1994.
He added that most South Africans reported they would like to interact more often with people from other race groups, but cite language and confidence as the two greatest barriers.
"On this Reconciliation Day, I call on each of our citizens to think of the simple things they could do to reach out across the racial divide in their everyday lives. One way of doing this is to learn another South African language," Ramaphosa said.
"We should recognise that in addition to the fundamental changes we need to make in the structure of our economy and society, reconciliation can be built through our everyday activities.
"Our response to the coronavirus pandemic has shown that we are at our best when we extend hands of solidarity and compassion to one another."
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