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Archive for the tag “race”

Racism and Race Relations in South Africa

Earlier this morning someone asked a question on Quora, which I found interesting, and thought it worth trying to answer. I’ve posted the question here, but have expanded my answer a bit, because I think it is an important issue, amnd it has been bothering me recently.

How has the race relations in South Africa been? And how is it now? And where does it seem like it’s heading? Are there any pressing issues not covered in the general media?

Steve Hayes
Steve Hayes, former Senior editor and junior lecturer at University of South Africa (1986-1999)

And here’s my answer, modified and expanded for this blog post.

You can click this link to Quora to see my original answer.

After the first democratic elections in 1994 race relations improved, as the ANC sought to establish its goal of a democratic non-racial society. White people who had been taught to despise and fear black people discovered that the sky did not fall if they socialised with black people. One saw black and white children playing in the streets, or socialising in malls, which would have been unthinkable in the apartheid time. The importance of race gradually diminished in many people’s minds.

After about 2005, however, things changed again. There was a gradual increase in racial rhetoric, some of it imported from the USA. During apartheid race was seen to be very important, and after a drop between 1994 and 1999 it began to pick up again. Some white people, influenced by current thinking in the USA, began emphasising “whiteness” again, and promoted “whiteness studies”. They denigrated the ANC goal of non-racial democracy, and promoted racism while claiming to be anti-racist.

During the apartheid people white people were indoctrinated by the government with the idea that whiteness was the most important thing about them, and after 1994 many white people were being disabused of that notion. It therefore seemed very odd to me when people who called themselves “antiracist” began trying to resuscitate that decaying corpse. See here for more.

At about the same time, or soon afterwards, a different group gained control of the ANC, which had lost the vision of the struggle leaders, who were old and retiring from public life or had already died — people like Oliver and Adelaide Tambo , Walter and Albertina Sisulu, and Nelson Mandela. There was a new generation, led by Jacob Zuma, who were more interested in what their country could do for them than in what they could do for their country (to misquote J.F. Kennedy).

They teamed up with some crooked businessmen, the Guptas, who hired a British public relations firm, Bell Pottinger, to promote their cause, and Bell Pottinger’s strategy was a massive campaign to increase racist rhetoric by promoting anti-white racist slogans on social media. They paid large numbers of people to propagate these racist messages with an effectiveness that the Nat propagandists of the 1950s probably never even dreamed of.

Right-wing white organisations like Afriforum have run similar racist propaganda campaigns to promote the narrative of white victimhood, with stories of “white genocide” which they promote all over the world. Again, the theme of “whiteness” comes to the fore. When a farmer is murdered in an armed robbery, it is the whiteness of the farmer that is the most important thing in the message. Whiteness is everything. The obsession with whiteness is like a dog returning to its vomit.

And then there is this op-ed piece by Mondli Makhanya in last Sunday’s City Press, about how black people too are becoming Obsessed with Whiteness.

Along with this, we’ve been exposed to a lot of talk about “white privilege”, though I’m not sure what the point of it is. The place where we associate most with white people is a thing called TGIF, which happens early on Friday mornings. Someone speaks about a topic for 45 minutes, there are 15 minutes for questions and discussion, and it’s over by 7:30 so people have time to get to work. We enjoy it because we usually find the talks stimulating and its a way of being exposed to different ideas in one’s retirement. But quite a lot of the talks have been about “white privilege”.

I suppose I first became aware of white privilege at the age of 7, when the Nats came to power and apartheid was nothing more than an election promise that had yet to be implemented. My father, a chemist, got a new job in Germiston, which entailed a move. We had sold our house in Westville, near Durban, and so my mother and I spent two months at a hotel at Ingogo, about midway between, until we could find somewhere to live. As a result, I missed two months of School. I was in Standard 1 (Grade 3). The hotel was run by a cousin of my father’s, and their daughter Gillian was 8. I don’t know why she wasn’t at school, but we wandered the countryside and fished in the river. There is more about that in another blog post here.

On a few occasions Gillian and I visited a farm school held in a rusty corrugated iron church about a mile from the hotel. All the kids were black, and were probably children of farm labourers. The teacher welcomed us, but she was teaching several different classes in the same room. She asked questions, and my cousin and I were first with the answers.Why? White privilege.

When we lived at Westville I went to kindergarten. It wasn’t just any kindergartend; one of the neighbours had a governess for their daughter, Annabelle Dougal, and several other kids were invited to join her for lessons. As a result when, in the following year, I went to Class I at Westville Government School I was there for a month or two, and then promoted to Class II, which had a different teacher. White children had separate well-equipped classrooms with a teacher for each class, the black children at the farm school had Grades 1-5 in the same room, taught by the same teacher, with poor equipment. And if they reached Grade 5 most of them would go no further. So naturally we white kids knew the answers to questions we were asked in our own language, while the black kids were having to answer in a language they were still trying to learn. The sums the teacher was writing on the board were things I had learned two years earlier from Annabelle Dougal’s governess.

At the age of 7 some aspects of white privilege were obvious to me, others were not. The poorly equipped classroom, the teacher having to deal with different classes were obvious. That these were reasons that we white kids could answer questions more promptly only became apparent later. And what I only became aware of much later still was the class factor — that the children of chemists are likely to have better educational opportunities than the children of farm labourers.

How did my father become a chemist? He went to Durban High School and Natal Technicon, where he studied organic chermistry. His father, my grandfather, was a stockbroker and a mine secretary. My grandfather’s father was a builder and later a hotel keeper. My great grandfather’s father was a carpenter and then became a building contractor. And his father was… a farm labourer. The class privilege built up over six generations. The race factor was superficial and obvious, the class factor less so.

So what good does the obsession with whiteness and white privilege do? I can’t go back 70 years, and tell my parents no, I’m not going to the Witwatersrand with you, I’m staying here in Ingogo, and will complete my education at this farm school. Yes, I do believe that history is important. If we can understand where we have come from we can plot a different course for the future. And in 1948 the Nats had just come to power and immediately revved up the obsession with race. We know what that led to, so why are we doing it all over again? When Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as president he said “Never again” and he’s hardly been in his grave for five years and here we are doing it all over again.

But 70 years seems to be a kind of magic figure. In 1906 Alfred Lord Milner was trying to force Afrikaans-speaking children to learn in English after the Anglo-Boer War, and 70 years later Andries Treurnicht and Ferdi Hartzenberg, who were surely not unaware of the toxic resentment that that had caused, tried to do exactly the same thing by forcing black kids to learn in Afrikaans. Those who will not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. But twenty years after Milner, Afrikaans became an official language of South Africa.

And 20 years after apartheid began Christian theologians rejected it as a heresy and a false gospel when they said,

… we are being taught that our racial identity is the final and all important determining factor in the lives of men. As a result of this faith in racial identity, a tragic insecurity and helplessness afflicts those whose racial classification is in doubt. Without racial identity, it appears, we can do nothing: he who has racial identity has life; he who has not racial identity has not life. This amounts to a denial of the central statements of the Gospel. It is opposed to the Christian understanding of man and community. It, in practice, severely restricts the ability of Christian brothers to serve and know each other, and even to give each other simple hospitality. It arbitrarily limits the ability of a person to obey the Gospel’s command to love his neighbour as himself.[1]

We we still persist in talking about race as if racial identity was the most important thing about us.

We are not alone in this obsession with race, however.

When I look at questions on Quora, about half of them seem to be about race, and about two-thirds of those seem to make racist assumptions.

So racist rhetoric seems to be making a comeback, driven by different sectors of society with different agendas, but the same general goal — to promote racism. And to some extent they seem to be succeeding.

Where it will lead to, who knows? But I think South Africa will be a lot more racist in 2019 than it was in 1999.


Notes and References

[1] A Message to the People of South Africa published by the South African Council of Churches and the Christian Institute of South Africa, August 1968.

Race and identity: what is “coloured”?

Why is it that, more than 20 years after the “end of apartheid” we seem to be getting more obsessed with “race”? After Wayde van Niekerk won the 400-metre event at the Olympic Games the term “coloured” suddenly started trending on Twitter.

Why Wayde’s gold is a win for coloured identity | IOL:

The term “coloured” began trending on Monday morning and my immediate reaction was: “But why? Let this boy bask in his well-deserved glory, at least for a day.” But almost as soon as I thought that, I realised what Wayde’s win could do for the coloured narrative in South Africa. Now see, I have recently started proudly identifying myself as coloured. This was something I fought for many, many years. I was taught to resist society’s attempts to box me, to resist feeling defeated when asked “What are you?” every day for as long as I can remember. If I was to identify myself racially, it should be black, as was always the case with my family during apartheid. But then, particularly over the last two years, I began self-identifying as coloured for a number of reasons. You begin feeling marginalised, excluded from the South African narrative, called upon only when the Democratic Alliance and ANC needs your coloured vote in the Cape. You’re not white enough or black enough.

Back in the days of apartheid even the apartheid theorists had problems with the “coloured”
race classifications, they divided it into sub-categories, including “Other Coloured” for those  who didn’t fir neatly into their scheme. Also back then, most of my “Coloured” friends, when using that term to describe themselves, would use air quotes while saying “so-called coloured”.

Page from apartheid-eria ID book

Page from apartheid-era ID book

But someone recently tweeted:

If someone can be proudly Zulu for instance …. Someone should equally be able to be proudly, Coloured.

And this begs the question of what is “coloured identity”.

Comparing “coloured” with Zulu implies a cultural identity, and from the article quoted about Wayde van Niekerk that implies that “coloured” means “Cape Coloured” in terms of the old apartheid ID numbers.

We lost the old apartheid ID numbers over 20 years ago, when everyone, regardless of previous classification, was given an 08 number, and so race classifications lost some of their rigidity. But we are still asked to specify our race for things like census returns. The article quoted seems to assume some of the apartheid “own people” thinking in discussing coloured identity, as if it were simply a cultural category, like Zulu.

But a few years ago I knew a child who was born in South Africa of a Nigerian father and a Ukrainian mother. In terms of the old apartheid classification system she would be “other coloured”, but who would her “own people” be now? How should she appear on the census? Isn’t talk of a “coloured identity” marginalising people like her?

 

 

Racism and the #ZumaMustFall movement

A few days ago I suggested that the #ZumaMustFall movement is predominantly middle class, at the moment at least, because Zuma’s latest blunder had its most immediate effect on the middle class. Unemployed people living in informal settlements won’t be complaining about the increased cost of their next overseas holiday because of the fall in the value of the Rand. When it hits the petrol price and taxi fares the working class might begin to sit up and take notice, but that will be sufficiently long after the blunder for the connection to be less obvious – it will take some populist rhetoric from the EFF for that to happen.

Also, the appointment of Pravin Gordhan as finance minister has stopped the slide for the moment, even if it hasn’t restored the status quo ante.

Comments on the #ZumaMustFall movement have also revealed a lot of racism. As one commenter put it Why I didn’t march or chant #zumamustfall — Medium:

The #zumamustfall bandwagon has perpetuated a political discourse that troubles me. Subtle and, at times, overt racism has trumped good intentions. Zuma’s ability to lead this country, while questionable, does not give us the liberty to spout racist rhetoric. I’ve heard people commenting on black people’s inability to lead this country; that whites would do it better. This suggestion repulses me.

And the following exchange on Twitter shows another aspect of this racism:

Zwelinzima Vavi Retweeted charles modisane

Correction it’s us who organised the march & all SAfricans joined. Must we cancel if whites join or chase them away?

Zwelinzima Vavi added,

In this case, there appears to have been a misunderstanding. The #ZumaMusFall marches took place on 16 December, which was also a day on which some people gathered at the Voortrekker Monument, and some people there were displaying the old flag of apartheid South Africa. At least some people, like the Tweeter quoted above, thought the photo was taken on the #ZumaMustFall march, and was criticising Zwelinzima Vavi for apparently associating himself with such people.

We live in a society in which people are different in many different ways. Race, culture, class and religion all contribute to our “identity” and what makes use different from one another. “Racism” is what happens when people make “race” the primary and most significant characteristic, and when they interpret all the other differences in terms of race, and especially when they think that that overrides all the things we have in common.

I once had a friend whom I had known for a fairly short time. We grew up in different parts of the country, in different cultures. He was black, I was white. He was Xhosa, I was English. He was from the Eastern Cape, I was from Natal and what is now Gauteng. We were both Christian. When we went to England to study, and found ourselves in a foreign culture, we realised how much more we had in common: we had grown up under the same sky, under the same oppressive government, we were homeboys. I’ve written about these things more fully here: What is African? Race and identity | Khanya

Zulma2The piece I quoted above, about why the writer did not take part in the #ZumaMustFall march, goes on to mention “white privilege” as a factor. “White privilege” is something that is often misunderstood. Many white people say things like “Apartheid ended more than 20 years ago, we are all equal now. If anything white people are discriminated against in things like affirmative action.”

And it is true that we now have a non-racial constitution. There are no longer any legal privileges attached to being white, and the constitutional court is there as a watchdog.

But twenty years after the end of apartheid, inequalities persist, for example in education. Indeed, one of the criticisms of Zuma and the ANC government is that it has not done enough to redress these inequalities and to improve education. Towards the end of apartheid, the previous National Party government came up with a scheme to allow formerly all-white schools to decide their own admission policies, and admit pupils of other races. When several of them did so, the NP govvernment hastily privatised the schools.

The result was that middle-class black pupils were admitted to formerly all white schools, and that has persisted. But what was the result? White pupils were privileged to meet black middle-class children. But black working-class kids in the townships continued to go to all black schools. So twenty years later, cultural and class barriers remain.

To understand the effect of the cultural barriers still perpetuated by white privilege, please read this article, by someone who understands both cultures: How Mainstream Media Unknowingly Helps The #ANC Use #Zuma As Its Racial Jesus |:

Jacob Zuma – the person and the president, the body that is depicted visually and the figure that is related to politically – is the terrain on which South Africa’s race issues have played themselves out in weird and telling ways. Without realising it, mainstream media has done the ANC a huge favour in playing up the DA’s “Zuma is corrupt” trope because as well-intentioned and truthful as it may be, what it’s done is exacerbate the friction among the races – especially between black and white people – because white people do not know how to level an insult so it lands where it’s intended. This is because colonialism and apartheid skewed racial relations.

Economist explains why whites earn more | Fin24

White people earning six times more than blacks, screamed the headlines after the release of the 2011 census.

I do not doubt that whites earn more than blacks – although in a way it is too simplistic to state it as such.

The 2011 census provides several reasons why white households earn six times more than black households.

One can explore the reason in two parts. Firstly on an individual basis where whites earn on average about four times more than their fellow black South Africans. The second part has to do with household dynamics and why it is that White households – again on average – earn six times more as households than black household do.

via Economist explains why whites earn more | Fin24.

There is also more to this than the article allows for.

What would be really interesting would be to compare what and black earnings are at the toip and middle management level.

I know of at least one instance where a white person, who was earning a very good salary, left, and was replaced by a black person, who demanded, and got, a salary a third higher than his white predecessor, simply because he was black, not because he was better qualified.

The difference in pay could have funded three entry-level positions for young people, most, or all of whom would probably have been black.

Now this is just one example, and I’m not sure how widespread this is, but economists somewhere perhaps have figures to show what is actually happening.

But I have a suspicion that because of BEE, there is a greater demand for black people in middle and top management than there is for white people, and by the law of supply and demand that means that black people can command higher salaries at that level for the same job.

And that is why BEE is not Black Economic Empowerment, but Black Elite Enrichment, because if the black guy had been satisfied with the same salary as his white counterpart, three more young people could have been employed.

We don’t need a youth wage subsidy, we need less greed in top management.

The problem is not primarily one of race, although that may play a part. It is primarily one of class.

 

 

Seeking asylum: varying views from five continents

Asylum seekers seem to keep on making news. In some places, like Australia, asylum seekers are regarded as criminals, and the media sometimes refer to “suspected asylum seekers”, as though seeking asylum was a crime one could be suspected of committing.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has been signed by most countries, says:

Article 14.

(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
(2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

In Canada, it seems, this right has been respected even when it seems contrary to Section (2) above: Row as Canada gives asylum to white South African | World news | The Guardian

Asylum seeker Brandon Huntley claimed he had been persecuted, abused and repeatedly stabbed. But it was the reason he gave for his ordeal that caused a diplomatic rift today. Huntley is South African – and white.

Canada’s decision to grant him refugee status because of his colour prompted accusations of racism from the South African government and a fresh bout of soul searching in a country still scarred by the legacy of apartheid. Some South African whites say they have become a persecuted minority.

But France refused asylum to Vladimir Popov, Yekaterina Popova and their two children, who claimed that they were persecuted in Kazakhstan because they were Orthodox Christians and ethic Russians. French authorities kept them in detention for two weeks and repeatedly tried to deport them to Kazakhstan. That seems to be in line with the treatment of asylum seekers in Australia and, in some cases, South Africa.

But in this case the European Court of Human Rights disagreed Interfax-Religion
reports:

The European Court of Human Rights found France guilty of violating Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment), Article 5 (right to liberty and security) and Article 8 (right to respect to private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights, and ordered France to pay the family 13,000 euros.

So here are five different countries — Australia, Canada, France, Kazakhstan, and South Africa — on five different continents, with very different attitudes to asylum seekers and asylum seeking. For some seeking asylum is a human right, for others it is a crime.

Racial epithets

There has been an interesting discussion on the English usage newsgroup alt.usage.english recently. It started with someone asking whether African-Americans should be referred to as “Black” or “black” (with or without a capital “b”.

I kept out of it at that stage, because I’m not American and certainly not a fundi on American usage.

But then it broadened, as these things inevitably do, and some people were asking about racial and ethnic terms in South Africa, and one person said he thought that Hindus in South Africa were called “black”. And someone else said that the apartheid terminology was “Indians”.

Well, no. “Indians” was the pre-apartheid terminology, and it was applied to Hindus and Muslims indiscriminately if they or their ancestors came from the Indian subcontinent, which is now divided into India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh.

One of the first acts of the apartheid government was to pass the Population Registration Act of 1950, which required that everyone have their population group registered, and this was done in the population census of 1951. Everyone was given a race (or population group) classification, which was one of Asiatic, Bantu, Coloured or White (all with capital letters, because they were official). Indians, Nepalese, Pakistanis etc were all lumped together under “Asiatic”. In the 1970s the canons of political correctness were changed, and Asiatics became Asians, while Bantu became Blacks.

Then there was this snippet, with my reply:

>Apparently “brown” is now used to some degree to refer to
>Hispanics/Latinos in the U.S.

It is also used as a self-description by some former so-called “Coloureds” who are still so called in official documents in our so called “non-racial” democracy (scare quotes deliberate, indicating two-finger gestures with both hands in viva voce situations).

The Population Registration Act has been repealed, yet the same racial epithets continue to be used, though they are no longer defined. Apartheid may be dead, but it still rules from the grave, and its legacy lingers on.

Racism and sexism rule OK

I’m glad I’m not the only one to have noticed that in all the media hoopla about potential US presidential candidates Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton, practically nothing has said about their policies. It’s all about race and sex. The Gaelic Starover and Priestly Goth Blog: Barack Obama have also noticed this phenomenon, so I’m not alone.

It seems that the media are playing the race and sex cards for all they are worth. There was a thing on SAFM radio yesterday: Will the American voters accept someone of Barak Obama’s race or Hillary Clinton’s sex? What do black American voters think of Barak Obama (he’s a real African-American, with an African father and an American mother)?

This shows how racist and sexist the media still are. In a really nonracist and nonsexist society, the focus would be on their policies.

If whichever one wins withdraws all American soldiers from Iraq by the end of January 2009, then we’ll know that they will have at least cleaned up George Bush’s mess. The smell will linger long afterwards, of course, but they will have done what they could and can spend the rest of their presidency, one hopes, getting on with more positive things. But race and sex are far more glamourous than cleaning cat crap off the carpet.

But not a word about ending the warmongering that has made America the polecat of the world. It’s all race and sex. Not only do the media expect us all to be racist and sexist, the encourage us to be racist and sexist, and to evaluate politicians on the basis of their race and sex, and not on their policies.

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