SA must embrace non-racialism

THE Freedom Charter declared that “the rights of the people shall be the same regardless of race, colour or sex”. This was taken very seriously by the ANC to the extent that it provoked a split in the organisation.

 In 1959, a small group of nationalist-minded persons opposed the non-racial policy of the Congress Alliance, especially the clause in the charter which declared “The country belongs to all who live in it, both black and white”. This group broke away and formed the Pan African Congress, basing their philosophy on “Africa for the Africans”.

Section 1 of the constitution declares that it is based on the values of, inter alia, “non-racialism and non-sexism”. Section 9 states the state may not unfairly discriminate indirectly or indirectly on, inter alia, “race, culture, language and birth”.

Non-racialism is like a golden thread that is woven into our constitution and body politic. Non-racialism is therefore a fundamental principle that is intrinsic to the unity of the human family. It is the essence of a true humanity. Institutionalised discrimination as it was manifested in colonialism, segregation and apartheid made manifest and painful inroads into humanity and its non-racialism.

Racism is a cancer that must be eliminated. South Africans of all cultural and ethnic affiliations have a duty in this regard.

It is therefore intensely painful when leaders of the ANC, a movement that is historically and intrinsically rooted in equality and non-racialism, such as Julius Malema, makes an unqualified pronouncement that all the whites are all criminals because they stole the land. Also in this regard is Jimmy Manyi’s comment that coloured people were over-concentrated in the Western Cape and needed to move to other provinces to find jobs elsewhere and that in KwaZulu-Natal Indians were bargaining their way to the top.

 These statements are patently racist and make inroads into our commitment as a nation to non-racialism. Although these statements have been repudiated by politicians, much more is required than mere verbal repudiation.

 These statements reflect the idea of racial nationalism which is gaining support in the ANC, according to which, there must be racial representivity in all appointments in the civil service, in a way that Africans must dominate in all spheres and branches of government. Together with the rigid application of cadre deployment, they pose a serious challenge to the legal supremacy of the constitution and its values.

 Racial nationalism, by its very nature, is the very antithesis of non-racialism and mitigates against effective service delivery.

 South Africans need to rise above the hurtful and ignorant statements of certain misguided politicians and embrace humanity in its entirety. The way in which this can be done is by reaching out in a compassionate and caring way to all our fellow human beings.

 According to the South African Survey, more than 21 million people live in poverty. Approximately 42% of South Africans are unemployed.

 This is not exclusively the responsibility of government.

As these persons are South Africans, they are our people, with whom we share humanity.

Non-racialism cannot be seen in isolation. It is inextricably part of the kind of kind of society envisaged by the Bill of Rights in our constitution, involving human dignity and freedom from want.

Democracy allows South Africans freely to determine their own destiny. South Africans need to live in a responsible and disciplined manner and work tirelessly for a just and non-racial society. This requires frugality on the part of government and private sector leaders.

 It is of vital importance that those in the service of the public such as cabinet ministers and MECs should set an example of financial discipline, probity and frugality. South Africa today is crying out for role models in both the public and private sector who in their lives reflect the great values found in the constitution, of dignity, frugality, non-racialism, ubuntu and caring.

The responsibility for promoting non-racialism lies not only with the government and political leaders, good or bad, but also with ordinary South Africans, civil society and religious organisations who are committed to social justice. Our voices need to be heard and our deeds must reflect our profound concern for social justice and racial harmony.

South Africans, having achieved and created an exemplary democratic system of government, premised on the values of equality, non-racialism and liberty for all, at a sublimely great cost, need to deepen it and extend its benefits to all the people of this land, particularly those in need.

George Devenish, retired public law professor and one of the scholars who assisted in drafting the interim constitution of 1994

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