Reitumetse Makwea

By Reitumetse Makwea


Denying racism will never change the fact that it exists

It’s often said black people 'cry racism' even when it’s unnecessary.

While it seemed we were closer to realising the dream of a “rainbow nation” than ever before, more than 25 years into South Africa’s democratic dispensation, racism is still playing out in our schools.

I remember the first time I heard about Nelson Mandela’s dream of a rainbow nation – I fell for it hook, line and sinker, along with the rest of the world.

We were captivated by the idea of what could be.

Often subtle, when it happens you never suspect racism and by the time I realised it, my mom had already come down hard on me, sat me down a couple of times and eventually pulled me out of the school for being a “problem child”.

Last year it happened again, this time to my little sister.

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She came home crying because a day before she was given her Grade 7 results, one of her teachers at General Nicholas Smith said the black pupils in her class would never amount to anything and were not going to pass in high school.

She was devastated; she had been ridiculed a couple of times in front of other pupils but that particular time, it stung the most.

Being a humble person, she chose to let it go.

The recent violence at Hoërskool Jan Viljoen in Randfontein, where parents, pupils, police and security guards clashed over what appeared to be a racist incident, showed me that “our dream” had faded into a pleasant memory, taught to us in history class.

Over the past five years, black South Africans have witnessed the rise of open and crass racism.

It has not only become more prominent, it has increasingly shown that creating a nation to which everyone feels they belong and sees themselves as part of the same unit is impossible, especially with our history as a country.

So, is Nelson Mandela’s idea of the rainbow nation a dream to live in a nation where we all move forward as one, a nation which acknowledges the diversities of its people and embraces them, regardless of skin colour relevant today?

Here we are – again – still battling issues of racism, classism and sexism, where a white child calls a black child the k-word, or where a black pupil is forced to make grovelling and degrading apologies to a white pupil.

Where black pupils are demoralised by white teachers, who often tell them they are destined to work behind counters in shopping centres because of the colour of their skin, regardless of their hopes and dreams, or make derogatory remarks masked as compliments.

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It’s often said black people “cry racism”, even when it’s unnecessary, but until we all come to the table and engage honestly about how denying racism will never change the fact that it exists, not much is likely to change.

Achieving a true rainbow nation is not just a matter of forgiveness, but a matter of self-reflection.

And until real change has taken place, the gaps and the tensions will continue to grow, while the cracks through our reflections widen.

As we – black children – continue to fight the inequalities that still exist between opportunities, education and jobs, we must remember that racism is learned, so can be unlearned.

That said, if you’re wondering what happened to the rainbow nation dream, it is still just a dream, taught in history books – not our reality.

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Columns Nelson Mandela (Madiba) racism sexism