I have often been bothered by the question of whether we as a country have done, or are doing, enough to deal with the problem of racism.
Now and again we are jolted into national consciousness about racism when we read about random acts of racial prejudice. But after that, life continues as normal until another act of racism is given wide coverage in the media.
As South Africans, we have not really had an open and honest conversation about racism. While we openly discuss gender, religious, class, ethnic and even corruption issues, we still shy away from discussing race or racism for fear of destroying our imagined racial harmony or rainbow nation myth.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are various aspects of our society where we see racial harmony at play and we need to encourage that.
I watch black and white kids mingle in the playground and see non-racism at its nascent stage. In our church, I see black and white congregants and staff interact with one another on an equal basis.
But we would be fooling ourselves if we were to conclude that based on a few examples of racial harmony all is well. We need to bring racism completely into the open so we can deal with it. If we continue to sweep the issue under the carpet, we will never get rid of it.
When delivering his 2016 State of the Province address, Gauteng Premier David Makhura made a clarion call to the people of Gauteng to unite against racism and xenophobia and fight this scourge wherever and whenever it manifests.
The premier urged Gautengers to work together to build a non-racial society where all citizens have the means to realise their dreams, dismantle all the structural impediments that make it difficult for people to live in peace and harmony, and to push ahead with the programme for radical social and economic transformation.
It’s against this background that Premier Makhura took a decision to appoint a group of eminent persons who will work with various civil society initiatives to open honest and constructive conversations on how to build a society free from racism and xenophobia.
I welcomed the opportunity to serve in the 20-member eminent group of nation-building and social cohesion champions put together by Makhura to work with his government in the fight against racism and xenophobia.
The group is tasked with, among other things, developing and identifying programmes and campaigns that will bring all sectors together with a view to promoting integration and inclusivity.
Also, the group will propose policy interventions with the aim of promoting social cohesion. I look forward to serving in the team and making a modest contribution, taking into account the sector I come from.
It is common knowledge that racism and apartheid happened in South Africa because the church, among other institutions, sanctioned it. The church gave its approval for a racial system and allowed racists to call themselves Christians. That is one of the reasons that some of our black brothers and sisters have called Christianity the white man’s religion.
There were, of course, black and white Christian leaders such as Beyers Naude, Desmond Tutu and Johan Heyns who spoke out against apartheid and racism.
The latter paid the ultimate price when he was assassinated on November 5, 1994, for having publicly rejected racism and the notion that apartheid was the will of God.
Christian leaders like those mentioned above refused to succumb to the mythical ostrich syndrome of hiding one’s head in the sand and pretending all is well.
They confronted racism and called it what it is: sin.
In a country that is overwhelmingly religious and where almost 80 percent of the population professes to be Christian, the church world, and indeed the general religious sector, cannot insulate itself against this all-too-important subject.
Racism is a matter we must openly discuss in our churches, mosques, shuls, synagogues and temples.
The reality of our religious beliefs has to be manifested in the manner we treat each other.
We cannot be religious and racist at the same time. How I act towards you and how you act towards me is the real bottom-line test of the religion I claim to live by.
And nothing makes our country’s failure of this test clearer than looking at the racial discrimination and inequality that continues to date.
We must courageously tell the truth about racism and how it continues to define the lives of the majority in our country.
Critically, we must be more determined, through individual and collective actions and through legislation if need be, to eliminate racism.
It’s my hope that the eminent group can make a contribution in this regard.
* Pastor Ray McCauley is the president of Rhema Family Churches and co-chairman of the National Religious Leaders Council
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.