South Africans have to develop a complete intolerance for racism, and isolate racist comments and views, Editor-in-chief of City Press newspaper, Ferial Haffajee, told a recent GIBS Forum.
“Tolerance for racism is absolutely not okay. Antiracism has to be personal and atomised in our homes, workplaces and communities,” she said.
Addressing the gathering on her recently published book What If There were No Whites in South Africa? Haffajee said one of the reasons for writing the work was to put non-racialism back on the agenda and defend its legacy and that of nationhood of Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “They made a country that largely works; even if it doesn’t work for enough of us.”
She also wanted to dispel a number of myths, especially around Black Economic Empowerment and Employment Equity “as bad things that we only speak about in negative terms.”
Hafajee said there is a very definite political change taking place in the country, with many asking big questions around race, citizenship and democracy.
“There is a fundamental questioning of the philosophy underpinning the Constitution, and while I very much believe in the rainbow nation and non-racialism, I also understand the Biko moment that we are experiencing,” she said.
Following a number of racially-charged comments on social media platforms at the beginning of 2016, Haffajee explained she believes social media is a good thing, but that people need to exercise caution as it is “media on steroids.”
Social media has helped establish an intolerance for racist attitudes and contributed to the debate of what constitutes free speech or hate speech: “Social media can feel very intimate, like you are speaking to a community you feel you own. But, there is almost no way that you can keep anything private, you can’t just ramp up your privacy settings.”
Haffajee said she believed the current debate surrounding race is coming from a younger generation who do not see themselves represented in universities and the world of work.
The growth of South Africa’s black middle class, who had progressed in a single generation from the working class, represented one of the biggest class shifts anywhere in the world. However, “many are wanting to move forward, but feel they are being held back, especially in the private sector,” Haffajee said.
“While economic growth is key to addressing many of our issues, we also have to look at equity and the fairness in the existing corporate structure.”
The ANC had been “highly successful at creating a black middle class, but that middle class is not particularly loyal,” Hafajee explained. South Africans are a very democratically engaged people and strong themes were emerging across racial lines around patriotism and holding the government to account.
“There is a growing intolerance of corruption and state failure,” Haffajee said.
With regards to the upcoming local government elections, Haffajee said it would be interesting to watch the Metros of Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and Nelson Mandela Bay to see if middle class shifts come through.
“The local elections will be competed on race and not on local service delivery. The growing race consciousness has provided the ANC with a unified campaign to cover many ills. The ANC would find it difficult to fight an election based solely on service delivery because in so many places citizens feel that the state is not working for them,” she said.
The ruling party “doesn’t have the ear of the masses anymore and is a dated movement that has become fat around the belly,” Haffajee said
While she completely discredits the doomsday theory that South Africa is on the brink, Haffajee said there were a number of urgent interventions the country needed:
“It is vital that we push up the quality of our Matric passes and break the stranglehold the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) has on our on our education system. Youth unemployment is a time bomb.
We need to triple the size of the middle class in order to take the pressure off public expenditure and increase the fiscus. The public sector wage bill is crowding out spending that we so desperately need.”
“All these plans are contained in the National Development Plan, which we seem to have completely lost sight of,” she concluded.