Columns 16.3.2017 05:31 am

Urging South Africans to honour Kathrada and #TakeOnRacism

Derek Hanekom

Derek Hanekom

Incidents of racism over the past year should leave us deeply disturbed.

In an article published last year, struggle stalwart Ahmed Kathrada said “the fight for nonracialism, equity and equality is not short-term work, but generational work. It requires united effort and a lifetime of commitment…”

I recalled these words this week as Kathrada recovers in hospital, reflecting on the type of commitment his generation displayed in challenging a racist and oppressive state.

It is a similar type of commitment that we require to remove the vestiges of apartheid – institutional and attitudinal racism.

It is with this in mind that the Anti-Racism Network South Africa (Arnsa) marks Anti-Racism Week 2017. The week-long campaign, ending on Tuesday, challenges South Africans to #TakeOnRacism.

Arnsa is a network of about 60 organisations in South Africa and is spearheaded by the Ahmed Kathrada and Nelson Mandela Foundations. It aims to tackle the scourge of racism at a grassroots level by organising all sectors of society into a united front against racism.

Anti-Racism Week calls on people to learn, speak and act against racism. It encourages individuals and organisations to do something to challenge racism. Schools could host assemblies against racism, while faith-based organisations could address issues of racism in their sermons. Businesses could host workplace discussions about racism, while sports teams could dedicate games to support the week.

The idea is to create mass awareness – conveying the #TakeOnRacism message to all who live in South Africa. The week culminates on Tuesday, March 21, which is marked as Human Rights Day in South Africa and globally as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Incidents of racism over the past year should leave us deeply disturbed. The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) dealt with 505 complaints on racism – an 82% increase from the previous financial year. This may point to increased awareness on reporting racism, which is a positive factor. However, we should be asking that if 500 cases about racism were reported to the SAHRC, what about the incidents that have not been reported?

While some studies, such as that conducted by the Institute for Race Relations, indicate that racism may not be a big issue for South Africans, research conducted by others, such as the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, indicate otherwise. The South African Reconciliation Barometer indicates that persistent socioeconomic inequalities continue to affect the progress made in building social cohesion and reconciliation in a post-apartheid South Africa.

A practical example the barometer provides is that 77% of white respondents, 56% of Indian respondents, 42% of African respondents and only 29% of coloured respondents feel that they have the education they need to achieve their goals. This is an indicator of how specific issues like education are closely linked to racial identities and perpetuating inequality.

This Anti-Racism Week, we should all be asking ourselves what we are doing today to ensure that post-apartheid racism is challenged in all its forms. We should recommit to #TakeOnRacism with greater determination.

It is the least we can do.

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