Is there an increase in racist incidents in South Africa?

Whenever I am interviewed on television or radio, I inevitably get asked whether there is an increase in racist incidents in South Africa, given the prominence such incidents are receiving in the media nowadays.

My reply is always that I do not believe this is so. Racism and racist incidents have been with us forever, before, during and after apartheid. And just because something is not reported in the media, does not mean that it does not exist.

Maybe there has been a change in attitude in the media with regards to the reporting of racist incidence. Or maybe more people feel comfortable about approaching the media to report on racist incidence of which they might have been victims.

One of the things that many people forget is that the media can only report on things that they know about. If nobody tells them about a racist incident, then they are not likely to report on it.

So, when someone notices that the media is beginning to report prominently on racist incidents, they could be encouraged to come forward and relate their own stories.

It is of course good that the media are reporting more and more about racism in our society. My observation over most of the past 20 years of our democracy has always been that we are trying to pretend that racism no longer exists in our country.

This is understandable, in some instances. For instance, we went from a situation of serious repression and social engineering based on legally-enforced racism, to one of reconciliation. Make no mistake about it, apartheid was an evil system and it is understandable that many South Africans - especially those who could have been perceived to have benefited from it - would want to move on from apartheid.

However, not talking about racism and pretending that it does not exist, did not make it disappear.

The only way to deal with racism is to make people aware that it exists. We need to look at its roots and discuss ways in which we can make sure that it does not happen again.

Only once we have successfully dealt with racism can we hope to see a decrease in racist incidents in our country.

  • 19 February 2015