As 2016 kicks off, we are once again reminded of the many evils that plague modern times. From terrorism to racism, these evils continue to threaten our humanity and hamper any semblance of peaceful coexistence. As the New Year begins, the topic of racism has once again reared its ugly head. This time around, it’s not the callous actions of a white police officer against an unarmed black man in America, but racial slur made by a white woman against the black population in South Africa.
Racism is alive and well in South Africa
This issue of race was brought to the fore front by a Facebook post written by real estate agent Penny Sparrow. In her post, Sparrow bitterly complains about the appalling state of Durban beaches in South Africa’s east coast province of Kwa-Zulu Natal, after New Year celebrations. She goes on to rant racist slur, demean black people, by comparing them to monkeys, all the while airing her frustration with the amount of litter and dirt that was left on the beaches during the holiday.
It is a well known fact that during the festive season, South African coastal areas (which has some of the most beautiful and pristine beaches on the African continent) attracts scores of people, who come from all over the country, but particularly the inland parts and other coastal regions, for a change of scenery. Many black South Africans often take advantage of the festive period to spend time with family and friends on the beaches, which is an issue that seems to irk some white South Africans as reflected in Sparrow’s remarks.
Sparrow who has been the centre of a media firestorm since her Facebook post, was contacted by a popular South African radio station 702 to give her a chance to clarify what she meant by her comments. However, she once again showed her racist predisposition by calling the station “black people’s radio”. She also went on to say that the radio presenter did not sound ‘black’ as he was well spoken and articulate, and concluded by saying that the fury over her Facebook post would blow over by the end of the week. While Sparrow eventually deleted her Facebook post and posted a somewhat weak attempt at an apology, it was too late. The damage had already been done. Her comments had gone viral and she was trending on all major social media outlets.
Many South Africans have reacted quite strongly to Sparrow’s comments and have taken to social media to express disdain with her comparison of black people to monkeys. Sparrow has been accused of hate speech and has had formal charges of “crimen iniuria”-a crime against dignity and respect, laid against her. She is also to be reported to the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC)—a watchdog body that investigates violations of human rights and dignity—for her remarks. Her former real estate employers—Jawitz has also distanced itself from her comments by stating that Sparrow’s remarks does not reflect the sentiments and vision of the company. Jawitz also claim that she has not been employed by them since November 2015.
While Sparrow’s comments are at the fore front of this debacle, she isn’t alone in expressing disdain for the black population. In a similar post Justin Van Vuuren, a white South African man also took to social media to voice his opinion about black presence at the beaches
Sparrow and Van Vurren statements show that even though South Africa is 22 years post apartheid, many South Africans are yet to fully integrate. South Africa has often been referred to as rainbow nation, because of its diverse racial and ethnic groupings, that continue to peacefully coexist since the end of white minority rule in 1994. Be this as it may, South Africa is yet to fully realise racial integration and harmony, or exhibit the ideals of a “melting pot”. This is because a rainbow maintains its different colours within the entity, while a melting pot dissolves such that its differences cannot be so much identified. While people of different racial and ethnic groups in South Africa do exist peacefully side by side, because there is no legal law of segregation (as was the case during the apartheid era), inhibiting minority freedoms, there still appears to be racial tension among the different races. According to a survey conducted by the South African Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, 61.4 percent of South Africans felt that race relations since the end of apartheid in 1994 has either remained the same or worsened. A further 60 percent of people said they experienced racism in their everyday lives, while a further 67 percent said they had little or no trust for people of other racial groupings. These statistics show that searing racial divides continue to exist within the South African society, a divide that is seldom masked and often rears its ugly head when the opportunity presents itself, as seen through such sporadic racist rants.
Is white anger justified?
Some white South Africans justify their sentiments towards the black population because they feel that they have been marginalised in the new South Africa. They argue that the new black government headed by the African National Congress (ANC) has instituted a form of reverse racism as seen through the implementation of Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), which is aimed at creating economic opportunities for previously disadvantaged people. The policy has created mass economic opportunities and spurred the growth of a black middle class (which did not exist during the apartheid era), but has excluded many white South Africans. White South Africans often feel that they are overlooked for job and business opportunities in favour of their black counterparts, as government attempts to close the economic gap that exists between the white and black segments of the population. For this reason, many white South Africans have migrated to countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand to seek better economic opportunities.
Another reason for the so called “white anger” towards the black population is due to bad government and maladministration. It is a known fact that the ANC government is riddled with corruption and has made an array of bad political and economic decisions, which threatens to send the country into an economic tailspin. However, this is a problem that affects people of all races in South Africa, not just the white population. Furthermore, corruption or maladministration is not a uniquely “black problem” or endemic to black people. It is a problem that affects even advanced western democracies.
A third and possibly poignant reason for “white anger” towards the black South African population is just plain racism. It can be argued that many white South Africans view the black population as second class citizens or less than human, hence such racist outbursts and slurs. On the reserve side, black South Africans remain weary of their white counterparts. Though the policy of racial segregation formally ended in 1994, many South Africans remain segregated in their private spaces and only mix with people of other racial groupings in public spaces such as work or school (or when they absolutely have to). Each racial grouping continues to have preconceived ideas about the other, which is constantly reinforced, and shown through attitudes and behaviours.
A few last words
Racial integration remains a personal journey, which can only truly be achieved in the hearts and minds of people. While governments can make racist speech and actions illegal and impose heavy penalties and consequences for such acts, racism can only be really combated within. Once racist mindsets change, then attitudes begin to change and once this is obtained, change is then seen in behaviour and actions. But until then, we as humanity need to take an active stance against racism; be it in politics, education, sports, arts or social media. It is time we say enough is enough. It is time we say NO TO RACISM.