As millions of enthusiastic South Africans celebrate Reconciliation Day, the concept of unity that the day advocates has been severely hampered by a spike in racial incidents throughout 2014. Despite being 20 years into democracy, the country continues to be plagued by cases of racism and profiling. According to one expert, South Africa’s ‘honeymoon phase’ is over.
Stanley Henkeman, who serves as the head of the ‘Building an Inclusive Society Programme’ at the Institute of Justice and Reconciliation (I JR), stressed that the reality of post-apartheid South Africa was beginning to kick in. Despite the perceived equality, the society remained an unequal one.
“One of the realities that have kicked in is the fact that there is an awareness and understanding from people that these inequalities cannot exist as they are,” he said.
This was further evident by the fact that many still felt threatened and fearful when people of different ethnicities were entering areas usually perceived as racially exclusive to a specific group. With this segregation gradually breaking down, Henkeman said there was a fear amongst many that they were going to lose what they have.
“When you talk about reconciliation, you never speak from a deficit perspective. You never think about what you can lose. Reconciliation by implication means that it is a coming together, and unless and until we get to that point where we understand that it is about finding each other and not pushing each other apart, that’s when we really will begin to understand reconciliation,” he said.
To overcome these racial boundaries, he said it was imperative that people took the initiative to personally get to know those of varying ethnicities. Without this, an individual would likely harbor an extremely superficial and stereotypical perception of others.
“I fully understand the argument that there are people with criminal intent, and people who are trying to cause mischief, and those people will always be there. But I think we need to find other ways of outing these people,” he said.
Henkeman said government would also need to take responsibility for the situation. With several big rallies and events likely to be scheduled to mark Reconciliation Day, he suggested that a lack of understanding on the part of government towards other race groups, was doing little to help the situation.
“What happens at these rallies is that we start calling each other names, and start accusing each other of certain things. That is totally counterproductive to reconciliation,” he stated. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)