Racism continues to rear its hideous head

Protesters march against racism in Cape Town earlier this year. South Africas education system needs to be transformed from one that reproduces racism to one that works as a powerful force against it, says the writer. Picture: Michael Walker

The Oxford dictionary defines racism as “a belief in the superiority of a particular race”. Racism has surfaced and at Riebeek College Girls’ High School no less. Riebeek College Girls’ High School was reportedly the first “White” public school to vote to open its doors to all races.

The cases of racism at schools all over the country is well-known, at Pretoria Girls’ High School, the question of hair caused untold harm to its learners. In Cape Town, Rustenburg Girls’ High School and many other are guilty of maintaining white privilege by the system of feeder schools that remain predominantly white. Nozipho Mthembu, an ex-learner of Rustenburg Girls’ High School, was forced to resign as teacher by the governing body of the school. Schools are a microcosm of society!

Racist incidents abound. The Vicky Momberg, Penny Sparrow and the ‘Coffin assault’ incidents, as well as other incidents of racism on farms are everyday occurrences. In the Western Cape and Gauteng recently alleged racist shutdowns of townships by “Coloured” communities have become commonplace. The nationalism by Land First, Black First and certain utterances by EFF leaders are blatantly racist. The divisive legacy of apartheid will continue to haunt SA.

After the 1994 takeover by the ANC government of all political institutions and the apparent dismantling of all racial legislative bases, the populace of South Africa including institutions of higher learning, as well as the media and all parliamentary political parties spoke about a non-racial society. Some even interchanged multi-racialism and non-racialism as if they were synonymous.

The South African ruling class had since the middle of the 19th century carved up the nascent SA nation along the lines of the British policy of “divide and rule” into tribes, national groups and races. In this period, the genocidal wars of conquests and dispossession in addition to the engineered Nonquase cattle killing of 1857, the massacres at Bulhoek, Sharpeville/Langa, Boipatong and Langa, Uitenhage led to death of thousands. Education deprivation, dearth of health provision, starvation and decrepit housing led to thousands, if not millions of early deaths, both in infants and adults.

Racial ideology as an instrument was employed to counter the unity of the oppressed. The ruling class with the mentality of superior “White” mentality similar to that of Nazi Germany imputed biological inferiority to the oppressed. It has been the task of true non-racialists in this country to build one nation in South Africa.

Conclusive evidence points to the fact that there is only one race, Homo Sapiens. These ideas are given credence as, Lisa Gannett a leading British philosopher and scientist (2004) states: “[there is] widespread agreement among contemporary race theorists that race was an ideological invention of the late-eighteenth century science.” In addition, J. Craig Venter (2000), founder and CEO of Celera Genomics, one of the two groups responsible for determining the sequence map of the Human Genome, declared in an article on Race and Genetics “race is a social concept, not a scientific one”. Activists have been propagating these ideas since the mid-thirties.

The termination of the social revolution that 1994 constituted and the horse-deals at Kempton Park was mainly responsible for the racial outlook that SA projects. I have to add though that article 2 in the Freedom Charter promoting classification into national groups and races denotes multi-racialism and not non-racialism. This was further accentuated by the slide of the economy to an adoption of neo-liberal prescripts of the World Bank for the South African economy.

Race theory was introduced to serve the interest of the ruling class. Race discrimination does not exist in a vacuum. Race, class and gender discrimination are indivisibly entwined in the political economy of capitalism. Race is a by-product of class discrimination.

Surveying the political and ideological scene at Riebeek I am amazed (or should I be) that the EFF has ventured into what is essentially a middle-class skirmish. There are very few, if any, children of the working class or the poor at schools like Riebeek, Rustenburg or Pretoria Girls’. In fact, the learners stated typically, “We didn’t want the situation to spiral out of control”. The EFF would be better served if their attention would be to transform schools in the townships of the oppressed.

Of course, there are incidents of racism at schools because racism exists in society. Whilst the Education Act makes provision for the exemption from school fees (no-fee schools NOT free schooling), schools like Riebeek, Collegiate, and Grey have not reduced their fees and the middle class parents cough up these huge fees. Of course, there are other hidden costs, exorbitant transport fees to and from schools, crippling transport costs for sports events, expensive uniforms, books and other educational materials that might not be provided by the school. These factors limit intake of learners to the middle class.

The trend towards privatisation and for-profit schooling (Curro Schools) must be reversed. This system favour the advantaged (rich) learners in society. Class privilege will be entrenched that will generate racist perceptions.

A progressive system of free, compulsory education with free transport and meals for all is required. This presupposes that we live in a free, democratic state where the social deficits existing in our country, actively promoted by the ANC and other parliamentary parties are rapidly eliminated.

Hamilton Petersen is a former educator (principal teacher) at Jubilee Park Primary School, Uitenhage. He is also involved in SACOS sport as well as an official of the New Unity Movement (NUM). Hamilton writes in his personal capacity.