During a panel discussion at a conference hosted by Solidarity the panel, consisting of well-known South African intellectuals, highlighted the contradiction that exists in the way in which racist incidents are dealt with in South Africa, and in this regard they cited government’s share in it.
This panel discussion formed part of Solidarity’s national campaign against racism. The panel consisted of journalist and author R.W. Johnson, human rights activist Rhoda Kadalie, advocate Mark Oppenheimer of the Bridge Group, and legal expert Prof Koos Malan of the University of Pretoria.
According to Solidarity Chief Executive Dr Dirk Hermann, this panel discussion was important as a means of taking stock of the current narrative about racism in South Africa. “Obvious double standards are prevailing when it comes to racism in South Africa with political leaders and people in positions of power not being held accountable for racist statements aimed at a certain group. This trend stands in stark contrast with measures instituted by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) with the very purpose of holding politicians and people in positions of power accountable for their statements,” Hermann explained.
During the discussion Rhoda Kadalie posited that a struggling government and other politicians were driving a hostile racial discourse and inciting racial tension in South Africa. This discourse brings neither cohesion nor progress without government addressing the real issues, such as poverty, resolutely.
Concurring with Kadalie Johnson, in turn, said that the sluggish rate at which the economy was growing was leading to major frustration among the community, while a government on its last legs was using “white monopoly capital” as a mobilisation ploy in a bid to canvass support. In the process, racism is used as lightning conductor to divert the attention from government’s failures.
According to Mark Oppenheimer, it is also important to point out that history has shown that racist statements and hate speech hold real danger for people. “This while people in positions of power are playing the race card in an unparalleled way to divert the attention from themselves, as was clearly evident in Pres Zuma’s statements in the wake of the recent protests against him,” Oppenheimer added.
Kadalie concluded her speech by stating that the media also played a vital role in keeping the racial discourse alive. “Focus on the good stories of people from various racial groups who are working hard to prevent South Africa from failing,” was Kadalie plea.
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