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Anti-Racism Week – recommitting to non-racialism

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Former Robben Island prisoner, Ahmed Kathrada, shares his reflections on why South Africans should support Anti-Racism Week.

A few days ago, I was invited to speak at a Gauteng school ahead of Anti-Racism Week.

As I walked on stage, I could not help but marvel at what I saw: a gathering of young people of all races, attending the same school, sitting next to each other on the same floor, attentively listening to talks about racism, discrimination and human rights. For me, this was a snapshot of what South African society is capable of practically achieving through the bridging of racial divides. I remarked, that these young people could teach their parents a thing or two about non-racialism!

The visit to school formed part of activities for national Anti-Racism Week, which officially starts from March 14-21. The campaign is being launched by the Anti-Racism Network South Africa (ARNSA), which comprises of some 80 organisations, and is driven by the Ahmed Kathrada and Nelson Mandela Foundations.

Anti-Racism Week is something new for South Africa, and comes at a time of heightened racial tension in the country. The initiative is not only needed, but is long overdue.

I am inspired by the key message of this campaign, which challenges people to #TakeOnRacism.

It calls on all sectors of society – sport, arts and culture, business, schools and universities, government, civil society, professionals, faith based institutes and media – to unite to challenge this scourge. Very much like the United Democratic Front of the 1980s, ARNSA aims to mobilise the broadest section of society to address a common cause. Back then, it was about crippling the apartheid state. Now, it is about tackling the racism that never really left after 1994.

My wish is that every South African supports Anti-Racism Week and gets involved in, or hosts, activities aimed at addressing the issue of race. I would want to see this campaign empowering individuals, organisations and communities to learn and talk about, and speak out and act against all form of racism – be it personal, institutional, structural or cyber¬ racism.

Combatting racism is not the job of one organisation, a few people or government alone. It is incumbent upon all individuals and institutions. It is not only about securing one’s own rights, but about entrenching the collective dignity of our people.
Racism squanders human potential. For us to prosper, we all have to deal with this problem, now.

Two years ago, I addressed a special sitting of the United Nations. In my speech, I called for an alternative vision to the global resurgence of racism. At the time, I wondered about the possibilities of the equivalent of the ‘Greenpeace of anti-racism’ – a global civil society movement against discrimination. I added that “the ideal would be to strive towards creating a global anti-racism network to focus on anti-racism education training in all schools across the world. It is the youth that we must educate to prevent them from repeating the foolishness of their parents.”

I believe that the formation of ARNSA and the Anti-Racism Week initiative is a step in the right direction. It may not be international as yet. However, it has the hallmarks of a campaign that can be rooted locally, but can also take on global significance.

For me, this initiative is a vehicle that drives us ever closer to the horizon of a truly non-racial future – a future where all children, of all races have the same access to opportunities, and where the colour of their skin is not a defining or dividing factor in their lives. When we support Anti-Racism Week, this is the vision that we commit to.

* For more information on how to participate in Anti-Racism Week, visit

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