Few black South Africans have not had the experience of being followed while shopping in a store. Few black men have not had the experience of hearing cars being locked as they approach. Then there is the white woman who clutches her purse or lets the lift pass if she would have had to share it with a black man.
A black child is less likely to complete high school, less likely to earn a university degree, less likely to be employed, less likely to have medical aid and less likely to own a home, compared to its white counterpart. The fact that this terrible black experience and white people’s responsibility for it is largely unacknowledged, adds to the frustration.
Black anger is real and justified, but even so it can become counter-productive, especially when it is not leading us in a positive direction. It is also true that there is anger in some white communities, among those who do not see themselves as particularly privileged by their race and who therefore seek to dismiss the concept of white privilege. Even this anger cannot be summarily dismissed. The sad reality is that even though our struggles could never be comparable, how we think about them is similar. The question then becomes whether we have the capacity to acknowledge that.
The great tragedy has been the inability of all South Africans to get together and ask why the economy is structured the way it is, predominantly divided along racial lines. This would help us move faster in the necessary positive direction. Beyond the outrage and boycotts and reports to commissions, what concrete things can we do to start moving in the right direction?
We need new interactions with one another, through state and private sector programmes designed to reduce racial mistrust.
We need specific training for councillors and leaders of society on how to spot potential bias within themselves and how to pass these lessons on to their communities.
We need to consider how we can lift each other up and bring positive reinforcements to one another instead of pulling each other down.
Then we all need to do some soul searching in our schools, churches and homes, wherever people can be a little more honest about how they feel. How deep is my bias based on people’s race or ethnicity or speech patterns
We should never lose sight of the undeniable fact that things are getting better. For the majority of South Africans, black or white, attitudes have been changing with each successive year. What a white middle class person and black middle class person have in common these days is significant. What keeps them apart is cultural and historical differences. In time, people will realise that what keeps them apart is not real.
We are a country of ideals. An end to white domination, an end to black domination. Building a society where black people and white people will live together in conditions of peace and prosperity. We have always been a country guided by our hopes, not our fears. We are a country that chose love over hatred.
ANC Western Cape media liaison officer