Race Relations

Selection of Friday reading

Posted on July 29, 2011. Filed under: Race Relations, Transitional Justice, Uganda |

I want to start out by thanking everyone for the great feedback I have received on the latest issue of the SARB newsletter – especially those who appreciated our new template! If you would like to be added to our mailing list, leave a comment on this post – I won’t post your email address, but I will add you to our database.

Today I thought I would post a short selection of interesting things –

First, have a look at the latest article in the Race & Identity series: a joint initiative of the IJR and the Cape Times.  In it, journalist and author Bryan Rostron asks why We can’t break the cursed circle of colour in South Africa.

On a very different note, war crimes trials have begun in Uganda, and our colleagues at the Refugee Law Project at Makerere University have been observing and summarizing proceedings – an excellent resource for those who are unable to attend. Here are Update 1 and Update 2 on the proceedings of the trial of Thomas Kwoyelo, a former combatant in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) (more…).

Last thing – I recently attended the 13th conference of the International Association of the Study of Forced Migration in Uganda, which focused on transitional justice and forced migration. For me, a visit to this region really confirmed the strong links between these two themes. Pambazuka News has complied a special issue with excerpts from some of the papers presented at the conference – it’s definitely worth a read here!

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How to respond to Annelie Botes?

Posted on December 6, 2010. Filed under: Race Relations |


Last week, award-winning South African author Annelie Botes revealed in an interview with the Rapport that she dislikes and fears black South Africans.

Botes recently was awarded the 2010 K Sello Duiker Memorial Award (Afrikaans). As I think back on his work, Duiker explored the complexities of South African social exclusion with such nuance and insight – how are we to respond to blanket statements of this kind?

Botes’s comments – alongside others, including the talk that landed Youth League president Julius Malema in court on hate speech charges – have brought me to question aspects of the quality of current public discourse on race. How do we shift our focus to more constructive conversations?

I found some interesting insights online…

Bryan Mukandi Some perspective on race and crime

Zukiswa Wanner – Annelie Botes’s ugly racism

Pierre de Vos – Hiding in a cave

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Merkel and multiculturalism

Posted on November 4, 2010. Filed under: Race Relations, Xenophobia |


A few weeks ago, Chancellor Angela Merkel sparked international debate when, in a speech to young Christian Democrats, she pronounced on the ‘utter failure’ of multiculturalism and integration in Germany, and the difficulty of building a society in which people from different cultural backgrounds can live happily ‘side by side’. (more…)

While Merkel stressed the importance of the appearance of an accepting and tolerant Germany, particularly for international corporations working in the country, she has often called for ‘a tougher line on immigrants who don’t show a willingness to adapt to German society’, including suggesting a language requirement for entry into schools and the job market. While acknowledging the contribution of skilled foreign workers in the country, she also underscored the importance of educating unemployed Germans over ‘recruiting workers from abroad.’ (Reuters report…)

Perhaps in the interest of mitigating further international backlash, and at a time when nationalism and anti-migrant sentiment are issues of concern in Europe in particular, Merkel yesterday revised this position somewhat during a day-long ‘integration summit’, and called for more concerted work to improve social relations across cultural divisions:

“What I mean to say is that for years, for decades, the approach was that integration was not something that needed to be addressed, that people would live side-by-side and that it would sort itself out by itself,” Merkel said.

“This turned out to be false. What in fact is needed is a political effort and an effort by society as a whole to make integration happen … Diversity in society is something that has always made our country stronger.” (full story)

Following this debate, I was also really interested in the links Mail & Guardian columnist Verashni Pillay draws between Germany and ‘the South African project’. However, rather than divides related to culture or religion, she finds that the ‘yawning gap between the haves and have-nots in South Africa is causing a cultural clash of an entirely different kind’.

More specifically, Pillay writes about the divide between young middle-class South Africans – those who are ‘Trying to Make It Work’ versus a ‘new culture’ of dissatisfied young people who ‘want to be free of the heavy weight of our history and social complexities’. Have a look at Verashni’s column this week, its well worth a read!

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Revisiting Apartheid Race Categories: A Colloquium

Posted on October 12, 2010. Filed under: Events, Race Relations |

This week I am really looking forward to participating in a colloquium in Johannesburg on Revisiting Apartheid Race Categories, co-hosted by the Wits School of Human and Community Development, the Faculty of Humanities, the University Transformation Office and the Centre for Critical Research on Race and Identity at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

The colloquium takes place at Wits and has a really exciting programme and great speakers lined up- I have included the poster here, which outlines some of the themes and presenters.

There will also be a public lecture by Professor Jonathan Jansen on Thursday evening from 18.00 – 19.30 at the Wits Great Hall. (details)

If you are in Johannesburg the colloquium should be well worth a visit to Wits! RSVP details included on both posters. See you there!

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Kevin Bloom on Integration in SA

Posted on June 15, 2010. Filed under: Race Relations, World Cup |

Kate Lefko-Everett

This morning I came across a new article by Kevin Bloom in Global Brief magazine – self described as,

“…Canada’s confident, 21st century answer to The Economist, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, Le Monde Diplomatique and a host of other world-class international affairs media platforms. Global Brief is at once a top-tier print magazine and a highly subscribed, hyper-multilingual website…It has no moral mandate. It is not Anglospheric. It is not sensationalist. Nor is it fatalistic. Rather, it seeks to analyze and explain the world in all its bald complexities…”

Anyway, I digress, but I enjoyed that description…

Bloom is a writer and journalist who released his first book, Ways of Staying, in 2009. According to Book Southern AfricaWays of Staying explores the day-to-day realities of living with violence in South Africa, provoked by the killing of the author’s cousin, Richard Bloom, and actor Brett Goldin in Cape Town in 2006.

In his Global Brief article, Integration in South Africa – How’s it Going?,  Bloom suggests that while issues of racial integration remain important for the country, the “will to continue the conversation [about race] has flagged.” Notably, Bloom cites the findings of an IJR submission to the National Conference on Racism held in 2000:

“For its time, the report offered a number of revealing observations; some were reasons for optimism, some less so. It noted, for example, that 58 percent of South Africans, including a majority of white respondents, opposed segregating their communities and schools. It noted that, while a large majority of black South Africans supported affirmative action, a large majority of whites opposed the policy. It noted, too, that there was no evidence that racial animosity was on the rise in the country.”

He suggests that while these conclusions now “seem almost quaint: they point to a moment when, in democratic terms, South Africa was still a small child”, events this year including Julius Malema’s singing of dubul’ibhunu and the killing of Eugene Terre’blanche present challenges for a country “that was apparently moving towards racial harmony”.

In the context of the World Cup, Bloom concludes that while the event may be of  “no benefit to the legions of poor who live on the bread line in South Africa”,  South Africans are nonetheless “quietly hoping that the tournament will increase their ‘happiness index.’”

Read the full article here. Stories, anecdotes, pictures related to the impact of the World Cup so far? Leave a comment below!

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South Africa: “rainbow miracle” or “mired in decay”?

Posted on June 8, 2010. Filed under: Economy, News, Race Relations |


Several months ago, journalist Diana Geddes of The Economist visited the IJR and interviewed several members of staff, including Executive Director Fanie du Toit. These interviews, together with publications including the 2009 SA Reconciliation Barometer Report and the 2009 Transformation Audit, constituted sources for a “Special Report on South Africa” that appeared in the print edition of The Economist on 3 June.

After reading and reflecting on the Special Report, I think it is always important to be honest about the challenges South Africa continues to face after 16 years of democracy.  I also feel, however, that these past 16 years have been full of South African success stories, which seem to feature in national and international headlines far less often.

Some of the  fundamental questions posed by Geddes in the Special Report are captured in the following opening paragraph:

Can the “miracle” nation, which won plaudits around the world for its peaceful transition to democracy after centuries of white-supremacist rule, conquer the bitter divisions of its past to turn itself into the “rainbow nation” of Nelson Mandela’s dreams? Or will it become ever more mired in bad governance, racial tension, poverty, corruption, violence and decay to turn into yet another African failed state? With Zimbabwe, its neighbour to the north, an ever-present reminder of what can happen after just a couple of decades of post-liberation single-party rule, many South Africans, black and white, worry that their country may be reaching a tipping point. (Full article here)

I am left wondering if this really captures the nuances and complexities of the South Africa of our daily lived experiences – one which to me still often can feel both inspiring and disappointing, deliberative and impulsive, contradictory, exciting and full of possibility, all in the space of an ordinary Monday morning.

To read the articles featured in the Special Report, follow the links provided below. Also, an audio interview with Geddes is available here. And please, let me know what you think by leaving a comment below!

The price of freedom
The monolithic ANC
Colour me South African
Jobless growth
A new kind of inequality
Corruption in South Africa
South Africa’s great scourges
Last in class
Don’t get ill
Still everything to play for
Sources and acknowledgments

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“I, Julius Malema, apologise…”

Posted on May 14, 2010. Filed under: News, Race Relations, Reconciliation |

Once again, this week controversial ANC Youth League president Julius Malema has dominated conversation at water coolers, corner cafés, taxi ranks, and even – I would warrant a guess – on the sidelines of soccer pitches around the country.

This week, the ANC announced the outcome  of the party’s National Disciplinary Committee hearing into complaints made against Malema. The four original charges against Malema related to his public endorsement of President Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF during a recent visit to Zimbabwe, calling a BBC journalist offensive names, and for singing dubul’ibhunu [shoot the boer], in contravention of an interdict by the South Gauteng High Court in April.

In light of the latter charge, Malema’s singing of Ayesaba Amagwala has been linked to heightened racial tensions among some South Africans following the death of ultra-right wing AWB leader Eugene Terre’blanche.

However, on Tuesday the ANC announced that three of the four charges against Malema had been dropped. He was found guilty on a charge of “behaving in such a way as to provoke serious divisions or a breakdown of unity” within the party, through statements made “implying that the ANC Youth League…has taken a position against the President of the ANC”.

Malema was ordered to “attend the ANC Political School for at least twenty (20) days within the next year”, “attend  programmes on effective leadership communication and anger management”, pay a fine of R10,000 and make a public apology.

Media reports suggest that opposition parties have reacted negatively to the ANC’s decision to drop the additional three charges.

What do you think? Leave a comment below!

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The Murder of Eugene Terreblanche and the State of South African Race Relations

Posted on April 7, 2010. Filed under: Race Relations |


This article was published in the Huffington Post on 6 April 2010.

I sat, earlier this week, in a back room in my hometown in upstate New York informally presenting my experiences in South Africa to town leaders. They — a hardware store owner, travel agent, and three retired teachers — wanted to know if “everything was really okay between the blacks and the whites.” The killing on Saturday of Eugene Terreblanche, a white supremacist leader, by two black employees, mandates us to look at this issue in a period when the World Cup and political spectacle has perhaps eclipsed this very basic question.

Early reports have indicated it was a dispute over wages that led the two suspects, aged 28 and 15, to bludgeon Terreblanche to death while he took an afternoon nap. Farm conditions are notoriously bad, evidenced by the fact that a 15 year old was even a laborer to begin with. Although it is hard to find reliable estimates, it is true that the murder of a white farmer by black laborers is not an isolated phenomenon. But this impetus could also be fueled by a lifetime of relative deprivation even after the transition from apartheid promised a better life, and the ANC pledged to help “the poorest of the poor”. So why have so many decried the increase in racial tension?

Major figures in South Africa have contributed to a political circus of late, and many fear the surreal nature of these public spectacles will only increase. Julius Malema, Youth League President of the ANC, consistently makes statements so absurd that they seem ready made to insert into a political cartoon. At his worst he is inflammatory, and most recently a court ruled that his singing of a struggle song with the lyric “shoot the boer (farmer)” qualified as hate speech. (Zuma’s campaigning to the tune of “Bring Me My Machine Gun” did not set a strong example in this regard). Reactions to Malema’s antics reveal widespread insecurity and fear about the future of South African politics and the decline of the ANC. His mention in nearly every article about the murder is further evidence that people feel he is dangerous and to blame for inciting violence.

Fear is also stoked by the experience of neighbor Zimbabwe, where land reform was poorly executed and “land grabs” by black laborers have resulted in white flight and a lack of faith in the state to carry out rational policies or the justice system to combat impunity. White flight has also occurred in South Africa. Due, on the surface, to rising crime rates and lack of economic opportunities, some may speculate about the lack of confidence in black governance.

Declining trust in the government, however, is not a white phenomenon. Interpreting their yearly nationwide public opinion survey for 2009, the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation concluded that while race relations have recently remained static, confidence in public institutions and trust in political leadership is on the decline across the board. The South African government is rapidly losing the confidence of its people in its will or ability to provide them with the basic services promised under the 1994 constitution. This is also evidenced by increasing numbers of service delivery protests.

While this data may not measure the complexities of political compromise, it certainly makes a strong statement that South African leaders and major media events are unrepresentative of citizen priorities.

This is somewhat paradoxical: while inflammatory rhetoric is on the rise, race relations are consistent as a whole. The problem is that these two forces, leaders with a dose of celebrity and citizens with underexpressed priorities, act to shape one another and cannot drift wider apart indefinitely. Polarizing citizens according to race is an attempt to break a strong, non-racial consensus that the government desperately needs to improve performance. The question is in which direction will the country be pulled. South Africans must find some way to reorient their government to their concerns and away from distracting performances by politicians.

Race is the most easily understood dimension of South Africa for Americans, but it does not explain strain in South Africa today. Racial tensions are not the fuel waiting to be ignited by a symbolic murder. The frustration over lack of progress on structural transformation, however, is providing ample amounts of rage. This rage can either become a tool for destruction or for increased pressure on the government to make good on their promises to provide a better life.

To read Gabriella’s interview with the Shine Centre in December, click here.

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Ripples of the Eugene Terre’Blanche killing

Posted on April 7, 2010. Filed under: News, Race Relations |


Last Saturday, news broke that Eugene Terre’blanche, leader of the far right-wing Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB), was killed on his farm in Ventersdorp by two young workers following a dispute over pay.

Terre’blanche was well-known for his support of the apartheid system and his vehement opposition to democratic transition, his party’s “swastika-like symbols and neo-Nazi anthems”, and his convictions on charges of violent assault and attempted murder.

Terre’blanche’s killing has provoked an emotional response from around the country – from the small minority who remain loyal to the AWB even after sixteen years of democracy, and those who are once again reminded of his racist and divisive ideology and South Africa’s apartheid past.

Tempers have reportedly flared in Ventersdorp, and particularly outside the court where both accused appeared yesterday. Some conflict was reported between AWB loyalists – who immediately vowed revenge for Terre’blanche’s killing (though this statement has since been retracted) – and Ventersdorp community members, who have voiced concerns over the poor treatment of farm workers and pledged support for both accused.

These scenes of conflict have been replayed widely in both the local and international media, and fuelled speculation over possible links to ANC Youth League president Julius Malema’s recent resurrection of controversial anti-apartheid song lyrics (“shoot the boer”), and possible security concerns ahead of the Soccer World Cup.

Most of all, this conflict has raised questions about the health of South African democracy and race relations sixteen years on. To me, what a sobering irony that Terre’blanche was killed not for his hate politics of the past, but over some of the most deeply divisive issues in the “new” democratic South Africa – economic inequality, indecent work, and a lack of transformation. And this by one accused who, at only fifteen years old, is a “born-free” without any political experience of apartheid, but arguably, living and working in conditions that have changed very little.

Several international media reports have included statistics from the IJR’s 2009 SA Reconciliation Barometer survey, including data related to a lack of substantive change in levels of contact between different historically-defined race groups since 1994. Certainly, it is true that levels of contact have remained relatively static over nine rounds of the Reconciliation Barometer to date.

However, survey findings also show – and this speaks to the heart of the Terre’blanche’s killing – that levels of contact between races are lowest amongst poor South Africans, and that a majority of citizens view socioeconomic class as the biggest social divide in the country, not race. Moreover, while many South Africans still find it difficult to understand the “ways and customs” of those they perceive to be different than themselves, many would like social contact and integration to increase, and are in fact interested in learning more about other groups.

Further, only about one-third of South Africans believe government has done enough in prosecuting perpetrators of apartheid crimes, and the Reconciliation Barometer has detected a decline in recent years in percentages of South Africans who feel they want to forget about the past, and forgive those who hurt them under apartheid.

These important findings – now played out in the streets of Ventersdorp and broadcast on television screens around the world – show that the work of the reconciliatory project in South Africa is not yet over.

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