For many – but not all – some Christmas cheer on race
"Derogatory comments intended to denigrate the intelligence, humanity, appearance, and beliefs of black people are rife." "The use of the K-word is endemic." "For many poor black people, for example farm and domestic workers, this is a part of the daily fabric of their lives and they remain vulnerable to racist treatment".
So concludes the South African Human Rights Commission in its 2016/17 Trends Analysis Report, published earlier this month. The commission is one of the institutions established under the Constitution to strengthen democracy.
Its report says that social media are used to express racism. In addition, "incidents of racial discrimination take place at schools, universities, businesses, and in the workplace [and they are] not limited to verbal abuse but often also entail further violations including physical violence, intimidation, sexual harassment or assault, and being physically excluded or removed from establishments or businesses".
Does its report contain data that substantiates its conclusions? In the year in question, it received 486 "race-related" complaints. These accounted for almost 10% of complaints about rights violations. An annual figure of 486 works out at 1.33 complaints a day, hardly a sign of ubiquitous anti-black racism.
Perhaps targets of racism do not always report it to the commission. Let us therefore assume that only 10% of racist treatment is reported. That would push the daily number of incidents up to 13.3. Against this, 5 816 serious crimes are reported daily to the police. So even a tenfold inflated number of racist incidents pales into insignificance when measured against crime.
How does racism compare with population? Our population is almost 58 million. Nearly all of these people engage every day in several inter-racial transactions, in the workplace, in shops, at filling stations, on campuses, in parking lots, over the telephone, and even at home. On this measure, the (inflated) figure of 13.3 racist incidents a day almost disappears.
The commission's findings confirm opinion surveys by the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) over a number of years dating back to 2001 to the effect that South Africans are far more concerned with unemployment, crime, and other issues than they are with race. Our most recent survey, published in October, showed that only 7% of voters of all races believe that racism should be regarded as a government priority.
The commission's view that racism is "endemic" and "systemic" is perhaps based less on evidence than on what appears to be its starting point, namely its view that "racism has been an integral feature of Western society for centuries [and] continues to be the dominant world view, shaping South African society since the colonial era".
The commission argues that concerted interventions by all sectors of society to eradicate racism are "most urgent". This already happens, although selectively. When Adam Catzavelos sent out a video clip of himself on a beach proclaiming that it was "heaven on earth" because there was "not one kaffir in sight", he was universally excoriated, not least by his own family.
There are probably many other white racists around, but they pay a high price if they do not keep their views to themselves and their friends. Few – if any – white politicians or public figures would dare go public with racial vitriol. The universal condemnation that has greeted the few who have gone public is probably as big a deterrent as whatever punishment the courts may inflict upon them.
This is not always the case when prominent black people express racist views or even incite violence against whites. Although they are condemned by some, including most recently Cyril Ramaphosa, and although they are sometimes punished by the courts, this does not stop the repetition of hate-filled remarks. Some public figures use such remarks to mobilise support. Unlike Mr Catzavelos, they do not apologise. The government even named a stadium after a man notorious for chanting "kill the boer". Declaring "one settler one bullet" or "fuck the whites" can make you a hero on campus.
That the Human Rights Commission found so little evidence of anti-black racism is good news. But applying double standards to racist rhetoric against whites is not.
* John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the IRR, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom. If you agree with what you have just read then click here or SMS your name to 32823. Each SMS costs R1. Ts and Cs apply.