South Africans have allowed themselves to believe in the myths of Ubuntu and the ‘rainbow nation’ and these have prevented the nation from moving forward in addressing racism. This is according to Teresa Oakley-Smith, Founder and Managing Director of Diversi-T.
Oakley-Smith was facilitating transformative conversations on racism organised by Diakonia Council of Churches on 29 February and 1 March.
She said, “There are some myths that white South Africans particularly enjoy which continue to be problematic. The first one is that of Ubuntu. Ubuntu in its pure form as it was initially conceived by African people is part and parcel of the way people live in communities, caring for each other. But we have assumed it to be part of the way people are in South Africa; that we care for one another and a person is a person through other people, yet we remain in our segregated groups.”
The other concept that prevents South Africans from combating racism, she said, is the belief that we are a rainbow nation.
“The concept of the rainbow nation was put forward as a project. When Archbishop Desmond Tutu first spoke about it, it was an aspiration and somehow we were so happy to take it on board and it made us too comfortable. We have to disabuse ourselves of the idea that we are a rainbow nation, but maybe holding it out as something we would like to work towards. Confronting racism is a step towards building a rainbow nation, if that is truly what we would like to be,” Oakley-Smith said.
She also noted that it is impossible to divorce racism from the environment characterised by mass poverty in which South Africans live.
“There is something terribly violent about poverty, about having nothing. We just cannot play with the ideas around racism without how they are embedded in the whole issue of inequality and poverty. Inequality has its roots in apartheid. We still have this huge legacy of inequality and poverty and it is not possible to address this racism without being conscious of this background,” she said.
Oakley-Smith also spoke about the importance of exposure of different races to each other, noting that there is limited interaction between people of different races in the country.
Delegates agreed that the issue of racism in South Africa should not continue to be swept under the carpet, but should be spoken about and dealt with.