I have been patiently observing the debate in the last couple of weeks over racist outbursts of European South Africans that had many people, mostly African South Africans, expressing outrage and collectively naming and shaming the racists. I couldn’t help but notice that, while the naming and shaming of individuals yielded results, not enough emphasis has been put on the causes of racism and specifically in the case of South Africa, why after 22 years of ‘independence’, European South Africans still feel so confident to denigrate their fellow African countrymen, in a country where they are a minority. I was glad when I read EFF leader Julius Malema’s opinion piece titled Why do white people despise blacks, in which he dissected the reasons behind the continued existence of a superiority complex among European South Africans, manifested in their verbal attacks towards African people, and more seriously through the racist system that has been in place for several centuries with manifestly no effort to undo it, despite the Rainbow Nation slogan chanted since 1994.
Contrary to what many commentators often say, racism does not need to be defined, as all of us, perpetrators (even as they bask in ‘white’ privilege) and victims of racism, know its meaning and the many forms through which racism is manifested. Trying to project a lack of understanding of racism or even attempts to question the victim’s understanding of what racism means to them is simply disingenuous. As somebody pointed out on Twitter, racism is the cultural, economic and systematic subjugation of one race by another, and until proven otherwise, Africans have never done this to any other race. In other words, racism is about power, and reaction to racism cannot be racism.
With all of that said, how can racism be dealt with beyond naming and shaming the overt racists?
1. Criminalise racism
Racism is still legal in this country because legality is a matter of power, not justice, and we must remember that slavery, colonialism and apartheid were all legal. Unlike African-Americans in the USA, African South Africans have political power with a majority in parliament and can easily legislate and criminalise racism. We must go beyond crimen injuria and legislate against racism, specifically in the case of South Africa, much as anti-Semitism and holocaust denialism are criminalised in Europe. The consequences must be serious and severe, not community service, fine or suspended sentence. The racists in South Africa must face consequences similar to those faced by holocaust denialists and anti-Semitists in Europe, or even the terrorist-apologists, as those that try to ‘justify’ terrorism are referred to in France and other western countries. The consequence of racism cannot be having to make an apology, as we know the perpetrators are often not sincere, and are part of a system that continually breeds racism due to lack of consequences. The Apartheid flag must be criminalised.
2. Take back our spaces
There are no-go areas in South Africa, where the oppressors and occupiers seemingly did not receive the 1994 memo that ended Apartheid. In some of these places, not just racism, but actual Apartheid is practised, and this in just unacceptable in 2016’s South Africa. This can be undone through a combination of land reform (resettling and empowering Africans in these areas) and the introduction of new stringent anti-racism laws to be vigorously enforced. Building prisons in these areas for those convicted of racism will certainly create more employment opportunities.
3. Decolonise existing institutions
Through legislation and strict enforcement, existing institutions must be transformed. Not by simply setting employment equity targets and some BEE shareholding, but by addressing structural issues. Some examples are: the curriculum at schools and universities where the approach is excessively Eurocentric as a legacy of colonisation and Apartheid; changing the South African Reserve Bank’s official mandate from inflation targeting to low unemployment and economic growth; influencing the language and admission policies of schools and universities; pushing change at various corporates, including banks and companies such as television production companies that continue to perpetuate the African as a second class citizen by reserving prime channels for ‘white’ content, to the point where secondary channels have to be created for African content, with smaller budgets, even if they are more profitable. Such television production companies continue to play a non-reconciliatory role, perpetuating divisions along racial lines and at the very best encouraging assimilation as opposed to integration, instead of making efforts to bridge the racial divide and bring South Africans together.
4. Develop strong African institutions
Bigger efforts must be directed at developing strong and leading African institutions in business (financial services, education, retail, manufacturing, real estate and others), art, literature, education, etc. that will offer Africans pride and act as a counter balance to existing ‘white’ institutions. These will ensure that ‘black’ people facing institutional racism can “vote with their feet”. Such a situation will force institutional racism to be addressed within the broader ‘white’ community as it is generally silently endorsed widely within the community. If we say European South Africans are generally racist, I am sure most among them that work for African-owned institutions are generally less racist than those that do not, because racism is about power and respect.
5. Decolonise the African mind
Steve Biko said the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed. To truly restore our dignity as Africans, we must emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, as Bob Marley sang. Africans must urgently seek and understand the true African history (which did not start with the arrival of the occupier), promote a new curriculum at schools and universities that reflect this rich history, develop and embrace African culture, and put an end to the herd mentality of always rushing to the latest trend from the west as this reinforces their power and belief that they and their ways are better/superior. Shifting the economic and cultural power from its current holder will change the dynamics in favour of the ‘black’ majority; this can be achieved by systematically encouraging and empowering African artists through more initiatives like Cassper Nyovest Fill Up The Dome Concert and more like him and not only in music. This way, we can be the writers, directors, producers, and actors of our own stories, making our own news to influence a positive, inspiring and aspirational African perspective. We must shift our world view. Buy ‘black’.
It is clear that the solution to restoring African dignity and pride must be holistic, and it is the combined effects of the various interventions that will eventually result in Africans not being racially abused, at least not in Africa. All issues discussed above can be further developed and expanded on, and I agree with Andile Mngxitama that Africans must engage, among themselves, in serious debate about how to free ourselves. To provoke some of us even more, we must definitely stop doing ‘white’ weddings…elsewhere people just do weddings…we do spend money promoting European culture by buying so much into Eurocentric weddings (just so the bride can wear a boring white dress), and by so doing, reinforcing the racists and occupiers’ superiority complex. Let’s take our destiny into our own hands. [MM]
Thabo Mahlangu is an investment banking professional based in Johannesburg and a passionate pan Africanist. Thabo is relatively well travelled across Africa where he feels at home, which has helped him develop a better sense of what it truly means to be African. A curious mind and critical thinker, Thabo is not afraid to ask difficult questions and challenge the status quo.