Ubuntu in Germany Column

Tackle deep-seated racism or the SA economy will suffer

(Editor: Alex Smit-Stachowski is a South African journalist and speaking in her column about the country of her birth. She had lived in Krefeld, in North Rhine-Westphalia/ Germany).

South Africa has experienced a wave of racist incidents showing the deep-seated white opinions and insecurities. It began with Durban estate agent Penny Sparrow, spread to Johannesburg with ex-‘Idols’ host and DJ Gareth Cliff and onto Cape Town as advertising executive Nicole de Klerk got fired for racist comments.


© Multiracial beach at Muizenberg in Cape Town. If only all of South Africa was as harmonious… (Picture by Alexandra Smit-Stachowski)

When the ANC was unbanned in 1990, many whites were scared that the propaganda they had heard from the ruling National Party (NP) would come true – whites would be driven into the sea or murdered in their beds!

Instead, ANC president Nelson Mandela sat around a table with members from all the political parties and discussed power sharing. After 27 years behind bars, he did not want revenge – he preached reconciliation and urged all to follow his party’s lead. So when it came to a new national anthem, parts of the racist ‘Die Stem’ were retained, as the idea was to be conciliatory to the Afrikaners as it was their heritage.

So when I returned to South Africa at the end of 2014 after 11 years in Germany, I was happy that the middle-class is now largely black and we have our own contenders for the Kardashians crown. The media is largely anti-government and pro-DA – the follow-up party to the NP and the DP – so the coverage is along the veins of “Look, they can’t run the country! It will be like in Zimbabwe…

After years of separate suburbs for whites, blacks, coloured and Indians – policies giving preferential treatment to those of lighter skin, the entire way of life can not simply change overnight or even within 21 years. It has taken Germany 70 years to shake its Nazi heritage – how can one expect South Africa to overcome the legacy of Apartheid in a third of time that it took Germany?

In many other ways, latent racism is experienced every day by the rest of the local population. Some whites still describe black workers as ‘girls and boys’ – despite them being adults; whites in a queue at a bank if not served immediately – have no compunction in ignoring others and demanding service – and get it due to their ‘white privilege’; and blacks are often spoken to in simple English loudly, as “they don’t speak English too well – or must be simple, as they are black”.

This behaviour has been allowed to carry on, almost undetected or unreported for decades but it seems 2016 is the year of true change.

So when Sparrow called blacks ‘monkeys’ and Gareth Cliff insisted she should be allowed her freedom of speech and Nicole de Klerk called black partygoers kaffirs – it was only right that all three were taken to task and have suffered where it hurts, economically.

As EFF leader Julius Malema recently repeated – racism is also largely due to the economic divide. So all who live and visit South Africa should do their part to help correct this injustice and stabilise the economy, so all can have a better life.

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