Deracialising South African society

Mugabe Ratshikuni says whites have never bought into the ANC's non-racial vision

The DA Federal Council meeting over the weekend drew huge attention, with analysts and experts predicting that the election of the DA’s new Federal Council Chair and other outcomes of this weekend’s meeting, will determine the party’s future trajectory, moving towards a more classic liberal political posture with Helen Zille’s victory in that regard.

In true South African fashion, the issue has in the end been reduced to race, with some saying old, white liberals wanted to take back “their party” from Maimane and the DA’s “black caucus.” Whilst reflecting on all this, the stark reality hit home for me again that 25 years into our democracy, South Africa remains a highly racialised society with race affecting almost every issue, evidenced by the social media uproar over the profiling of Dros rapist Nicolas Ninow.

Many people claimed on social media that there was an attempt to portray Nicolas Ninow as a victim worthy of some sympathy (this is where modernity’s trend towards behavioural psychology becomes a tad problematic I guess) based on his upbringing ,as opposed to a monster who raped an innocent child, something which would never be accorded a black person in the same position.

Juxtapose all this with the increasingly loud accusations that the ANC has been fueling the increased racialisation of South African society to deflect from its own failings over the past 25 years. How true is this accusation ceteris paribus? (ironic, because they are not and this is the real challenge to deracialising South African society, but more on that later).

The ANC inherited a highly racialised South African society in 1994, with white privilege and black impoverishment being the order of the day. Has this in any way changed over the past 25 years? The ANC came into power under Nelson Mandela with high ideals of building a “non-racial, non-sexist, united, prosperous South Africa” that was for all through its National Democratic Revolution, a “Rainbow Nation” as some called it, but in order to move towards this ideal, the ANC was faced with the burden of dealing with the highly sensitive matter of a historical injustice against black people that needed redress.

It is an interesting side note that despite this high ideal of non-racialism and the ahistorical attempts of white South Africans to isolate Mandela’s non-racial posture from that of the ANC and to posthumously claim him as “one of their own” who they would vote for if he was alive and in power, white South Africans by and large did not vote for the ANC under Mandela’s leadership in 1994 and instead mostly went with their “swart gevaar” inclinations in exercising their right to vote in the first democratic election. What this in essence says, is that from the onset, white South Africans to a large extent never really bought into the ANC’s non-racial vision.

The ANC’s historical mission to deracialise South African society is clearly articulated by its former President O.R Tambo, when he said, “we have got to move away from the concept of race and colour because that is what apartheid is. We cannot end apartheid if we retain these concepts.” So contrary to what the white South African mainstream would like to believe, non-racialism and reconciliation was not a Mandela project, but rather an ANC mission based on its historical values and vision for South Africa.

So in effect, South African society remains highly racialised not because the ANC is fuelling increased racialisation in order to mask its weaknesses, but rather because the ANC government has by and large failed to transform SA society partly owing to the fact that white South Africans have never, even from the onset bought into its non-racial vision and as a result refuse to embrace the principles of historical redress that are critical towards deracialising and truly unifying South Africa.

The internal DA struggle that culminated in the election of Helen Zille as Federal Council Chairperson over the weekend got me thinking about all this, because at its heart is the issue of whether race should even be factored into our policy positions as we seek to move towards a better future?

Zille and her ilk seem to believe not, and from the comments section of most online media platforms it would appear that most white South Africans hold the same view. In his resignation statement post the election of Zille as DA Federal Council Chair, Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba highlighted this particular fact when he said, “I cannot reconcile myself with a group of people who believe that race is irrelevant in the discussion of inequality and poverty in South Africa in 2019.”

In essence, the problems we encounter can be seen even in the results of the 1994 general election. White South Africans embraced the principle of reconciliation without agreeing to historical redress. They embraced non-racialism without being willing to make restitution for past injustices.

For white South Africans and for people like Helen Zille, their attitude is that we just move on and pretend that the past never happened. They seem to believe that we can create a society of equal opportunity for all without dealing with the structural inequalities within our society that are a legacy of our divided past.

So, the failure to transform ourselves into this paradigm is what keeps us highly racialised and divided. We want the end result of non-racialism and reconciliation without doing the hard yards to deal with structural, systemic issues that are inherited from our divided past and still keep a majority of our population on the periphery, on the outskirts.

It is this unwillingness to embrace this aspect of moving towards deracialising our country that has ensured that the ANC’s transformation agenda has up to now been unsuccessful (yes, the ANC has also shot itself in the foot through corruption and incompetence at some level, but this refusal to embrace structural and systemic transformation to deal with the effects of the past has also played a significant role in our collective failure as a people).

So, the DAs current internal struggles, are really just a reflection of the divisions within SA society and are just another indicator of how far we still have to go to reach the ideal of a deracialised South Africa, where skin colour does not matter. This type of South Africa would produce the type of voter who would think along the lines of O.R Tambo, who once said, “I would not hesitate to vote for a white person as President if I thought he was the best person for the job.”

Mugabe Ratshikuni works for the Gauteng provincial government; He is an activist with a passion for social justice and transformation. He writes here in his personal capacity.