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Racism must be stamped out in the classroom

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Picture: Itumeleng English African News Agency (ANA) – South Africa – Bloemfontein – 08 January 2023 – President Cyril Ramaphaso thanks the Nakedi boys for standing firm against racism after they were abused by a group of white racists at the Maselspoort Resort on Christmas Day. The two teenagers were Ramaphosa’s guests of honour as he delivered his message during the party’s 11th anniversary at the Dr Petrus Molemela Stadium on Sunday.

By Edwin Naidu

With the new school year almost upon us, discrimination remains the elephant in the classroom, which democracy cannot tackle until adults in South Africa move past their pre-1994 mindsets.

Three decades after the end of apartheid, one wonders what hope there is for children when words and deeds mean nothing if the nation continues to spew out racists.

South Africa boasts the best Constitution in the world. But togetherness is best reserved in beer advertisements, while the rest of the time, the nation is locked in its laager.

Whether on the school ground, the public swimming pool, or the heart and minds of citizens, racism remains a ticking time bomb. Our leadership (politicians, religious civil society, etc.) seems incapable of decisively addressing this illness while South Africans continue to run amok. Or is the collective inaction of leadership a gentle way out of facing up to the challenge?

As the new school term begins, will it be business as usual? Over the past few years, racism has made headlines, particularly in private schools. But this is a problem in general. In November 2022, politicians debated endlessly but came no closer to agreeing on the parameters of the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill. Such tardiness gives the racists in our society fodder to spew their bile.

For racism to be eradicated from our society, it must be stamped out starting in the classroom because it is evident that parents of South African children fail to help create a society that looks beyond colour. Are the teachers/educators equipped to do this?

Over Christmas, there was a national outcry when white adults attacked black youth at a public swimming pool in Bloemfontein in the Free State. Those young schoolboys did something no politician has done in three decades. They stood up for the Constitution. That is why it seems natural that in addressing racism, you have to start with the young ones because they will stand up for equality. And when the authorities fail you, you have to defend your rights as enshrined in the constitution.

As the Bloemfontein bullies showed, they would stand up for old habits that die hard. They are not alone in exhibiting archaic attitudes. In the past week, Marlan Padayachee, a former Durban journalist, ludicrously claimed that Indian women prefer non-Black men in South Africa. This claim was made in an obscure Caribbean media platform rather than the mainstream local press.

Such racial profiling by Padayachee, three decades after the end of apartheid, clearly reflects a mind stuck in the past. Those unsubstantiated claims may have been valid before 1994, but his article offers no evidence to support these claims. Perhaps, this is what happens when one masquerades as a journalist long after the flame has gone and no one takes anything he says seriously?

While Indians were deterred by colonial and apartheid laws from interacting with black African or white citizens, many have had relations across the colour line and fled the country.

The Immorality Act of 1927 (Act No. 5 of 1927) prohibited sexual intercourse outside of marriage between “Europeans” (white people) and “natives” (black people). Further, the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act of 1949 curtailed the limited but growing interracial marriages in society during the colonial era. Nothing prevented Indians from marrying Africans or Coloureds.

Any journalist worth their salt under apartheid would have known about activists who had relationships across the colour line. Although short-lived, Miriam Makeba married Sonny Pillay, of Indian descent. In her biography, When Hope and History Rhyme, the late struggle activist Amina Cachalia described how former president Nelson Mandela “sat me down on the two-seat couch in the living room and kissed me passionately”. Madiba was involved in controversy over a peck on the cheek of Bollywood actress Shabana Azmi in 1993 because kissing in public was not something you do in public.

But if Padayachee used a 21st-century search tool, Google, he would have come across a link to a YouTube video of Interracial Relationships in Post-Apartheid South Africa in August last year in which an Indian man spoke of how his mum reacted when he brought home an “African woman”. This would have shown that these relationships are happening regardless of his outdated views.

But then, Padayachee was always known to blow his trumpet about being in the trenches with anti-apartheid activists. He never left the trenches to keep abreast with the times. Or was he ever there?

While the Bloemfontein story is rightfully before the courts, Padayachee has not been held to account for his myopic view that Indian women don’t look beyond Indian men. But he’s wrong. One does not have to go far for the truth. On a personal level, without naming them, there are countless prominent and ordinary South African people of Indian origin in relationships with Black African individuals. When we start accepting people as human beings and not the apartheid name tags, we may see the love between two people and not statistics along racial lines.

A 2017 study on “Interracial marriages in South Africa: Attitudes and challenges, by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, show an increase in inter-race marriages between 1996 and 2011. The study furthermore reports that approximately five percent of Coloureds, Asians, and Indians marry outside their historically defined racial groups. The so-called new South Africa is real, Mr. Padayachee. If you make outlandish claims, it is best to back them up with facts.

Many examples of work highlight the challenges of racism in South African schools.

One of the country’s foremost experts on local and global inequality and social justice issues in education is Professor Salim Vally, the Director for the Centre for Education Rights and Transformation at the University of Johannesburg.

In a well-researched journal article, Between the Vision of Yesterday and the Reality of Today: Forging a Pedagogy of Possibility, Vally discusses the vision of education for liberation during the anti-apartheid struggle.

After 1994, education activists expected the new political order to create a more equitable education system that meets ordinary people’s needs. Sadly. It did not materialise.

Vally was part of the team researching racism, “racial integration”, and desegregation commissioned by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) at more than 100 schools.

The SAHRC report found many egregious instances of racism but also that the shadow of apartheid ideology continued to cast its gloom, no longer through racially explicit policies, but by proxy and exclusions such as language restrictions, spatial segregation, and high fees all related to social class.

What happens outside the school gates will inevitably affect the gains in schools.

Although the report recommended ten critical concrete and achievable interventions, they still need to be implemented.

The racists escape without punishment, but democracy treats the complainants shabbily. This is not on. In February last year, tear gas and rubber bullets were fired at protesting parents and pupils at a Gauteng school accused of racism.

The SAHRC report suggests that the Bloemfontein Bullies may be too far gone in correcting their beliefs and behaviour, having not been exposed to post-apartheid curricula. Still, one has to question if schools are equipping children to deal with the racism surrounding them. Many argue that the curriculum skirts around racism.

Children in South Africa seem to get along far better than adults. Therefore, they should be taught the antidotes to racism, such as cross-group friendships/relationships, cultural appreciation, and collective consciousness. These are more important than trigonometry for survival (in all senses of the word) to ensure that bullies like the Bloemfontein thugs stop their racist behaviour and people like Padayachee stop spreading their vermin.

Naidu is a seasoned journalist and heads up Higher Education Media Services – a social enterprise start-up involved in education in South Africa and the African Continent.

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