Racism is killing us - Nathi Mthethwa

Minister says some politicians and media houses pretend black population is in some way responsible for its suffering

Remarks by the Minister of Arts and Culture, Hon. Nathi Mthethwa, at the National Assembly at the debate on racism, Parliament, Cape Town

24 May 2016

Madam Speaker,
Deputy Speaker,
Ministers and deputy Ministers present,
Honourable Members,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen.

The preamble of the Constitution of the Republic partly states: “We, the people of South Africa, recognise the injustices of the past, honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land”.

Amongst those we honour and who suffered for justice and freedom in our land are the following:

Vuyisile Mini, Patrick Molaoa, Onkgopotse Tiro, Portia Ndwandwe, Steve Biko, Nokuthula Simelane, Ruth First, David Webster, Dulcie September, Fabian and Florence Riberio, Griffiths and Victoria Mxenge, Neil Agget, Chris Hani, Mathew Goniwe, Sparrow Mkhonto, Fort Calata, Sicelo Mhlawuli, Qaqawuli Godolozi, Champion Galela, Sipho Hashe, Solomon Mahlangu, Hector Peterson, Siphiwo Mthimkhulu, Joe Gqabi, Andrew Zondo, Ashley Kriel, Upington 6 and Gugulethu 7 to cite a few.

These patriots and internationalists died fighting apartheid and racism, some were assassinated others died on combat fighting this pernicious ideology of racism and paid the ultimate price for freedom.

Many of them disappeared without a trace, even today their families, relatives and friends have no information on what happened to them.

We also have a category of those who are still alive but bearing scars of their struggle against apartheid and racism. They are walking wounded, amputed even.

Our country has a lot of its citizens who have amputed souls, who cannot be noticed through the naked eye. The reason for their amputation is racism.

Indeed our freedom was not free. Taken through the dark shadows of death, Vuyisile Mini never flinched, he stared death in the eye and roared “Nantsi indoda emnyama verwoed basobha indoda emnyama”. 52 years after Mini was sent to the gallows, some racists continue not to heed his warning to Verwoed. We are warning the racists in our midst to heed this call.

The late President of the ANC, President OR Tambo articulated our vision in the following manner, "We seek to create a united Democratic and non-racial society. We have a vision of South Africa in which black and white shall live and work together as equals in conditions of peace and prosperity. Using the power you derive from the discovery of the truth about racism in South Africa, you will help us to remake our part of the world into a corner of the globe on which all -- of which all of humanity can be proud."

Frances Cress-Welsing's functional definition of racism is "the local and global power system structured and maintained by persons who classify themselves as white, whether consciously or subconsciously determined; this system consists of patterns of perception, logic, symbol formation, thought, speech, action and emotional response, as conducted simultaneously in all areas of people activity (economics, education, entertainment, labor, law, politics, religion, sex and war). Together, this system and culture of white supremacy produce the phenomenon of racism."

In this epoch we find ourselves we should be warning racists in our midst basobha indoda emnyama racists. Let us all ensure that racists are not protected but isolated as social outcasts and we should not allow them to dictate a pace of our transformation agenda because South Africans in their majority are not racists.

We have racists in our midst and their admitting to a problem is a step towards finding a solution.

If they are in your organisation be it political, religious, business etc, a solution is to expel them. If you are worth the salt or in charge of your environment, otherwise you are colluding with them and makes you are one of them.

This entailed suffering inflicted through racism should not be allowed in a society let alone a constitutional democracy like ours.

Lapse into the past

Colonialism of a Special Type contained within itself contradictions that could not be resolved through reform. It had to be destroyed.

Apartheid colonialism visited such devastating consequences on Black communities because it ordered the ownership and control of wealth in such a manner that these communities were deliberately excluded and neglected.

Despite the progress we have made, the structural legacy of colonialism, segregation and apartheid remains deeply entrenched as reflected in the colonial, sexist and super-exploitative structure of our economy; the spatial patterns of development and underdevelopment; and the social, human resources and infrastructure backlogs.

This structural legacy finds particular expression in mass poverty and extreme inequality, which were inherent to colonialism and apartheid.

Thus the current incidents related to racism are expressions of the views held by those who benefited from apartheid and who wish to retain the status quo.

And we ask ourselves, how much longer do people in South Africa mainly of a paler hue need to see themselves as superior, as brighter, as more entitled to the beauty and wealth of this country.

The words they use indicate how dehumanised they are; how their humanity has been lost, such that their attacks on others are attacks on humanity itself.

In our particular circumstances, the consequences of such warped thinking and seemingly knee-jerk reactions we have seen spewed from the mouths and actions of some political organisations, some in the private sector, some places of worship and lately a judge amongst others, could result in a desire for genocide, a wish to bring back the darkest days of apartheid.

Those who say and think in terms of hatred for others reflect an allegiance not to the South Africa of the present but an obedience to the perpetuation of the horrors of the past.

The Future

In 1956, the late Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. made the following remarks, regarding the calibre of leadership that the period of transition needs. He said the following; “In this period of transition and growing social change, there is a dire need for leaders who are calm and yet positive, leaders who avoid the extremes of “hotheadedness” and “uncle Tomism”. The urgency of the hour calls for leaders of wise judgement and sound integrity-leaders not in love with money, but in love with justice, leaders not in love with publicity, but in love with humanity, and growing social change  leaders who can subject their particular egos to the greatness of the cause.

Nation-building cannot degenerate into the mere perpetuation of hierarchies of the past, based on pre-given or ethnically engineered and imposed divisions of people rooted in prejudice, discrimination and exclusion.

It is the task of all South African democrats never to tire in the efforts to help convince those fellow South Africans who are still trapped in the past about the glorious future that awaits us.

To reach that destination we should as society we should at all material times work towards the following goals amongst others:

1. Fostering constitutional values

2. Equal opportunities, inclusion and redress

3. promoting social cohesion across society through increased interaction across race and class

4. promoting active citizenry and leadership

5. Fostering a social compact

Over all, there is a growing appreciation among various sectors of society that the current configuration of the country’s political economy is unsustainable.

Leaders of all sectors of society are at one that the levels of poverty and inequality are unsustainable.

The 1996 Constitution of the Republic, which articulates a broad framework of the national aspiration for a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa, is our lodestar in the efforts to build a society we envisaged.

This includes, but is not limited to, a political and socio-economic system which places the needs of the poor and social issues such as health care, education, basic services and a social security floor at the top of the national agenda.

Despite racism raising its ugly head from time to time, we should move forward with the determination of steel in our programme of radical economic transformation.

The current phase of the transition should be characterised by decisive actions to effect thorough-going economic transformation and democratic consolidation.

This is critical in order to improve people’s quality of life, but also in the promotion of nation-building and social cohesion. For this to happen, every sector of our society must put a shoulder to the wheel.

At the core of the second phase of our transition should be a concerted drive to eradicate poverty and to reduce inequality. Every South African should enjoy a decent quality of life. This applies both to income poverty and access to basic services.

Struggle against colonialism and apartheid struck a telling blow against racism. Since 1994, it became more subtle because it was outlawed. The continued outburst of racist nature is an intolerance of the progress our people are continuing to make, this is a kind of reminder that black people in general are second class citizens in the land of their birth.

Things are changing. It is getting better. We need greater co-operation. We need to harness our collective power to create a better world.

Building a non-racial society is not an easy task. It requires a change in mindsets, a willingness to think, to understand the basic dignity of all people and a commitment to equality and inclusivity in pursuit of a better life for all.

Racism is killing us. That is not merely a metaphorical truth. It is also a literal one.

All those South Africans which expressed racist tendencies were acting on a set of ideas that has been clearly articulated by organISed racists at every level of our society. These ideas come from the mouths of some politicians and some of the media houses, who pretend that the black population is in some way responsible for the greater unemployment, poverty and crime it suffers.

That reflects the level of racism that pervades our society and exists even in many sectors of our country. Racist comments are the norm.

Our programme into the future.

1. The overwhelming response from all sectors of society on the call we made earlier in the year, different sectors are reading themselves for the sectoral summits. The Intelligentsia is the first one to host such summit. These summits will result in the crafting of social compact for different sectors that will lead to a national convention.

2. Applaud South Africans for their response when they heed the call to reject racism and racists encourage them to be intolerant of these racists as and when they rare their ugly heads from time to time.

3. Continue to rally people against this scourge of racism, to strengthen the pillar of mass mobilisation for social transformation. Call on all peace loving South Africans both black and white to implement this programme and take a stand which states clearly “not in our name, racism stops with me”. We need to build a broad front against racism which will transcend our national borders.

4. Call on all compatriots to contribute in shaping the action plan, combat racism, xenophobia and other related intolerances. Humanity is under obligation to suppress and punish this crime. Whilst we cannot regulate the people’s attitude, however we can regulate their behaviour through criminalising racism. If need be, we should amend the Constitution.


Racism is not going to be overcome simply because people speak up. Racism, like so many other ills of this society, is the product of a society built on colonialism and its apartheid derivative for the benefit of the tiny section of our population. We must embark on a campaign to overcome racism.

The socio-economic character of the society we are constructing is based on the resolution of the historical injustice and the building of a democracy with social content.

Thank you.

Issued by the Department of Arts and Culture, 24 May 2016