Race relations have taken over the South African media platform for two straight weeks: The UCT poll on “the most attractive race”; the senior advocate who quit the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) amid disagreement about transformation; the Stellenbosch University’s residence-placement policy and (closer to home) a Wits Vuvuzela reporter who was called a “house negro” by a senior member of a political party on campus.
Although race is a sensitive issue in this country, the public trial on social and mainstream media regarding the UCT race poll was harsh. The paper is run by students and the article didn’t incite hate speech. One can argue that those students haven’t learnt the value of “political correctness” or lack the desperation to uphold the delusion of “the rainbow nation”. You can argue that the poll should not have been promoted as a “study” and that statistical inference should not have been made – that was the main flaw in the article. Students should not be taken to the Human Rights Commission (HRC) based on their preferences or writing about their preferences.
Transformation is also a highly contested subject. Advocate Izak Smuts resigned from the JSC reportedly accusing it of being “against the appointment of qualified white male candidates”. Affirmative Action (AA) rears its ugly head again and the proverbial question regarding transformation policies versus the hiring of qualified candidates was debated in many newspapers nationally.
Amongst others, City Press editor Ferial Haffajee, wrote about the distinction between transformation and qualified candidacy, saying the two are not necessarily exclusive.
If affirmative action and qualified candidacy are seen as exclusive, an “either or” choice, does this mean Wits graduates, across the race spectrum will be subjected to this limited scope in pursuing our careers?
Stellenbosch University’s residence-placement policy also came under media scrutiny. The university has finally been given the green light to accommodate more black students in its residences. The policy under review explicitly states that residence allocations should be: 66% white, 23% coloured, 10% black and 1% Indian. Stellenbosch alumni have spoken out against the policy and called for it to change.
To bring the matter closer to home, the chairman of a campus political party called one of our reporters a “house negro” last week.
While we discussed the best way to deal with the incident, one of our staff members said it was funny how “house negros” always get a bad rep when they started some of the slave rebellions in the US. He was referring to Nat Turner.
How and why some terms become derogatory is part of the debate. But the main point is South Africa is marred with racial tensions. These issues should not be denied, rejected or suppressed but should be debated.