Editor's note

The times they are a changin’ – again

There are two remarkable photographs in this edition: Wits SRC president Nompendulo Mkhatshwa, leading a student march in the #FeesMustFall protests last year; and nearly 40 years earlier, on page 26, a photo of an unknown young woman in school uniform, leading a student march in the 1976 Soweto uprising, thereby visually linking two momentous episodes in the history of South Africa.

The focus of this edition is therefore to remember where we have come from and to see where we are today. Greg Houston recorded authentic voices of people who were there in 1976, in Soweto and in other areas. Sharlene Swartz and colleagues compare 1976 to youth activism today. We want to look beyond the unnerving overspill of anger and destruction that accompanies the tectonic shift taking place in South Africa when a generation of so-called ‘born frees’ are again fighting for access to education.

But this is putting it all too simplistically, as it is also about not experiencing the ‘freedom’ that we all like to claim. It is about historic monuments and how these symbols of colonialism and white supremacy are perceived, discussed in an article on page 32. This feeds into yet another issue, the flare-up of racist spats on social media, picked up by the mainstream media.

On racism, one tends to ask oneself: is this real? Yes and no, says our research, reflected in an article trying to make sense of race relations on pages 20 to 23. In a survey late last year, before the renewed outbreak of racist spats on social media, there were signs of improved race relations. Does it mean that six months later, these gains have now been lost?

So what now? Our CEO, Professor Crain Soudien, noted at the closing of a recent HSRC dialogue on racism that we need to find new ways of understanding and creating meaning when it comes to ‘race’. We need to confront the reality of how disrespectfully African people have been – and still are – treated around the world.

This requires ‘tough self-reflection, challenging the way in which we use the colour of our skins to make inferences about our characters, intelligence or our capacities’, Soudien said. ‘We all need to find a way of saying that “I am not my outward appearance. I am not what I look like. I am not my white skin or my black skin”.

‘In confronting this and considering where we have come from historically, we need to acknowledge how difficult this is. Undoing racism requires every day work in our everyday lives. Central to this practice is an awareness of how racism works and a fundamental realisation that the fight against racism starts with an awareness of how it is insidiously inserted into the everyday.’

We have to recognise that it is not simply political correctness that we want. It is not just about being civil to each other. ‘We have to live more conscious, more knowing lives. We have to constantly seek, test, and reject evidence of the racial stereotypes on which we blindly function.’

The editor