Many political analysts have disagreed with President Zuma’s claim that South Africans exaggerate levels of racial discrimination and that the country has triumphed over racism.
“With time, people have tended to exaggerate the issue of racism because they say SA is still a racist country – not true. We defeated racism when we pursued the non-racial society. Our society is a rainbow nation, it’s a non-racial society. But it does not remove certain individuals who have racist behaviour who are uttering racist statements,” Zuma told eNCA.
He added that South Africa can’t be judged as a racist country because a few individuals still harbour racist attitudes.
Zuma was speaking after the ANC’s 104th anniversary celebrations that were held at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg in the North West province over the weekend.
Political analyst Dr Somadoda Fikeni says Zuma’s analysis is wrong because systematic racism in South Africa still continues to affect the majority of the population.
Fikeni adds that while Zuma’s analysis is wrong, he might have meant it in a different context. He explains that the president did not want to exaggerate the problem as he probably does not want to alienate white South Africans.
“However, the mistake he makes is to confuse the ideal we are striving for with the current reality. South Africa did not triumph over racism. South Africa transformed into a space where racism was removed in terms of legislation and the country’s laws,” he says.
He adds that even though legislation changed, systematic or institutionalised racism is still alive and well.
Dr Fikeni points out that we can’t say we live in a non-racial society when you can’t find white teachers who will teach in rural areas or buy a house in a township and who continue to group themselves along racial lines.
President Zuma has failed to see the bigger picture, he says.
Professor Susan Booysen agrees with Dr Fikeni that Zuma may have been trying to avoid alienating white South Africans, especially with elections just around the corner. She concurs that much has been done to fight racism in the last 20 years, but points out that racism remains at the grassroots level. “Racism is not a mission that is accomplished,” she says.
In recent weeks a number of incidents have sparked the debate on racism in South Africa, and we asked Dr Fikeni what could have suddenly sparked these episodes.
Unregulated social media is one of the problems he mentions, as well as the fact that some people have never owned up to their racist attitudes.
“The people who have been caught out are English South Africans as they never really dealt with the racism they hold. They shifted all the blame to Afrikaners. They believed they did nothing wrong and that everything was done by the Afrikaners,” he says.
Dr Fikeni adds that the ANC should do more to change the socio-economic terrain, must hold a national indaba to deal with racism, and should resist using this issue for electioneering.