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Racism in South Africa: The Conversations We Are *Not* Having

Racism in South Africa
 
While there is much to celebrate in terms of the progress made on eradicating institutional racism since 1994, the more difficult and complex issues have often been side-lined in favour of expediency and avoided to protect the interests of the powerful. The results of this are now clearly seen in our public discourse where there is a worrying increase in intolerance and growing polarization on racial issues.
On the 8th September 2015 we hosted a round-table discussion on this issue, in collaboration with Goedgedacht Forum and the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation. 70 people, bringing together representatives from organisations and individuals from all walks of life, including students, businesses, CSOs, political parties from across Pietermaritzburg, attended the round-table and we premiered a local documentary film, produced by PACSA, entitled, “Racism in Pietermaritzburg: Voices from the Street.” The documentary feature ordinary people in the streets of Pietermaritzburg who were asked to reflect on their everyday experience of racism and how it impacts on their lives.
 
On the 8th September 2015 we hosted a round-table discussion on this issue, in collaboration with Goedgedacht Forum and the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation. 70 people, bringing together representatives from organisations and individuals from all walks of life, including students, businesses, CSOs, political parties from across Pietermaritzburg, attended the round-table and we premiered a local documentary film, produced by PACSA, entitled, “Racism in Pietermaritzburg: Voices from the Street.” The documentary feature ordinary people in the streets of Pietermaritzburg who were asked to reflect on their everyday experience of racism and how it impacts on their lives.
The reflections captured in the documentary sparked great interest, leading to a conversation that revealed that, even after 21 years into our democracy, racism, in various forms, continues to exist. Its existence manifests itself in the manner in which people relate to each other, how the economy works, access to opportunities and also impacts greatly on the socio-economic issues that continue to plague our society.

Reflections from both the Goedgedacht Forum and the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation of discussions held elsewhere in the country confirmed sentiments expressed by residents of Pietermaritzburg regarding racism. The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation shared research findings from their SA Reconciliation Barometer while the Goedgedacht Forum presented an overview of the main outcomes which emerged at similar discussions in Cape Town and Johannesburg.

The discussions highlighted a need for ongoing dialogue around the impacts of those racially-based attitudes on society and that such dialogues needed to be held in other informal local spaces, for them to have the desired impact of behaviour change. The truth and reconciliation commission process did little to address the underlying issues and failed to take South African people through a healing process that would address the pain and trauma that many had to endure under apartheid.

If we are to deal with a root cause of racism we need to create an inclusive society and this means a restructuring and transformation of the South African economy and society where every-one has the possibility of living in dignity. Statistics show that Black South African are not sharing in the wealth that is created and is more negatively impacted by inequality: greater levels of unemployment, poor quality education; carries the greater burden of crime; and are more likely to live in poor quality housing. In this respect – nothing has changed since the end of apartheid. Focussing on economic transformation and narrowing the inequality divide is therefore essential to shifting both material and attitudinal structures, thereby paving a way to peace and reconciliation.