Racism cuts both ways

In conversation with Joseph Teffo
In 1995 the Springboks won the world rugby tournament, and in 1996 Bafana Bafana won the African Cup of Nations in soccer. Nelson Mandela was then the State President and honorary captain of both teams. He was also the champion of reconciliation, social cohesion and nation-building. As a country and as people we seemed to be working hard to realise the ideals of a nonracial, non-sexist and democratic society. Alas! Fifteen years there-after, we are retreating into the dark days. The race card is played willy nilly, and by all, as if there was never a watershed election in 1994. 

In their rejection of white racism, many of the formerly oppressed epitomise the very racism that has harmed their dignity and sense of worth.

Racism and escapism 

President Jacob Zuma is rightly calling for an indaba on morals in an endeavour to be inclusive as we craft a common future, and take collective responsibility for it. This will be a presidential project led by a team appointed on a fixed-term delivery contract. My contention is that this will also come to naught, as did the African Renaissance movement initiated by former President Mbeki, and the Moral Regeneration movement that was led by Zuma himself while he was deputy president of the country. Two reasons can help to explain the failure of these noble initiatives. First, the notorious policy of cadre deployment was invoked when appointments to office were made. Second, racist categories under the cloak of transformation influenced thoughts and actions, even in these honorable movements.

This debate can be taken a step further so as to include black racism as escapism. All too often the black oppressed of Africa, in an attempt to affirm themselves, do so in the negative. In their rejection of white racism, many of the formerly oppressed epitomise the very racism that has harmed their dignity and sense of worth. Racism is racism, it knows no colour and cuts both ways. As fellow human beings we must affirm ourselves in the universal sense. This ultimately implies respect for oneself and fellow human persons.

For decades now our continent has been rocked at its very foundations. Racism has tainted with blood the very soil we walk on. Unfortunately in our fight for freedom, the quest for power has all too often prevailed, and we have become victims of our own greed. Corruption is rampant and manifests in various forms. We can no longer use the excuses of apartheid and white racism to justify our own mistakes. Again I want to state that true liberation is far more than political control, and public office should never be used as a vehicle for self enrichment. Freedom implies liberation of the human soul in the universal order of things.

Learning to love

Seen in this context we still have a long way to go before we can truly say we are free. We must commit ourselves to overcoming this fatal disease, namely, racism as escapism. We should no longer compare ourselves to the man next door but rather to the ultimate goal we set ourselves. Maybe then we will stop judging each other and start helping and encouraging each other as fellow South Africans, beyond petty politics and self-destructive power struggles. Let our relationships, no matter how small the circle, be genuine, and in keeping with the spirit of Eric Fromm when he states in his book entitled To Have or To Be, ‘I have a great love for you, is meaningless. Love is not a thing that one can have, but a process, an inner activity that one is the subject of. I can love, I can be in love, but in loving, I have nothing. In fact, the less I have, the more I can love.'

...we still have a long way to go before we can truly say we are free. We must commit ourselves to overcoming this fatal disease, namely, racism as escapism.

Our beloved country is crying for redemption from corruption, moral decay and racism. All initiatives like the indaba on morals and the life-style audits seeking to achieve this noble goal should be embraced and supported. Above all, we should remember that the integrity of the process is as important as the outcome. Any attempt, perceived or real, at manipulating the outcome will render all exercises redundant.

Professor Joseph Lesiba Teffo is a research director in the research programme on Democracy and Governance.