Confronting Racism

Dissecting Apartheid

Racism has always been a feature in South African political and social discourse since the colonial era, but there are differing views on what constitutes it; how it came to being; how it manifests itself; and how it can be dealt with.

In part two of a series of podcasts, 702/CapeTalk’s Koketso Sachane seeks to Dissect Apartheid with guests Ron Nixon, author of Selling Apartheid, Richard Freedman, director of the Holocaust Museum, and Mokena Makeka, architect and owner of Makeka Design Labs.

In order to understand where we are now as a country, we need to look at the relationship between colonialism and Apartheid and how colonialism manifested itself in 1948. In certain ways, racism that was part of the colonial enterprise was already in place both in sentiment and in legislation before 1948. This was when the racial state was formalised, set out in a dedicated process.

Colonialism is really where we need to start looking at what influences the Apartheid legislation.

Richard Freedman, Director of the Holocaust Museum.

What we are faced with now is at times a complete lack of acknowledgment of even the existence of Apartheid - could this be a legacy of the propaganda machine during Apartheid?

There are those who will still hold on to those traditions and sometimes try to sanitise what happened, a sort of continuation of that propaganda.

Ron Nixon, Author of "Selling Apartheid".

Legacies like this can still be seen today if we look at the role the Group Areas Act had in separating people then, and how it manifests in how South Africans are able to relate to each other now. In contextualising racism, fundamentally it comes down to controlling this body in space.

Controlling this body is very much about benches, public infrastructure but also about separation of interaction between people; an attempt to control how the human body occupies space. We saw that certain activities are assigned to different cultural groups and certain interactions are made possible or not possible. The Group Areas were in fact a sophisticated form of ghetto that was designed to limit people's opportunities to interact and be productive.

The psychology or the psychosis of racism is not merely a cultural phenomena but its also about limiting that races' opportunity to progress economically, culturally or socially.

Mokena Makeka, Architect and owner of Makeka Design Lab.

In 2016, we could say that we continue to live this legislation due to the polarisation and compartmentalisation of societies, which still exists because this psychology is passed on through generations.

Opportunities need to be found for the meeting of the groups, society needs to be re-engineered to allow for these spaces in order for us to break the silos. We have a challenge to re-imagine public spaces and what it means to be a productive citizen. How are we going through these processes, how are we seeking to undo the legacies.

We have a challenge to re-imagine public spaces and what it means to be a productive citizen. How are we going through these processes, how are we seeking to undo the legacies.

Mokena Makeka, Architect and owner of Makeka Design Lab.

We cannot ignore the question of the economy in looking at the effects of Apartheid, today besides the land question, the economy is being debated as being in the hands of a few. What is the history of the role of the economy and how it manifests today - are we able to normalise the situation?

The economy is absolutely central to understanding the kind of issues that we are dealing with here, because poverty is there. Until we have addressed that, how can we address the other issues. We have to address the basic needs of human dignity, of being able to provide for your family or being able to have the dignity of employment.

Richard Freedman, Director of the Holocaust Museum.

In closing, there is still hope through the opportunities that present themselves in these new imaginings, to turn things around in this country. Looking at our past and telling the truth, being honest, will help us to build a future and it is up to this generation to change, we need to focus on what could be done, rather than focus on what was.


This article first appeared on 702 : Dissecting Apartheid


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