Avoid kneejerk conclusions, treat each case on its merits - Daily Dispatch

15 July 2021 - Have you ever said, "This time, racism is not the problem?" Have you ever considered an allegation of racism and found it to be false? Did you speak your mind in public, or did you keep your thoughts to yourself?

Gabriel Crouse

Have you ever said, "This time, racism is not the problem?" Have you ever considered an allegation of racism and found it to be false? Did you speak your mind in public, or did you keep your thoughts to yourself?

These questions are based on the cold fact that sometimes racism is not the problem, sometimes it is. It should be evaluated on a casebycase basis. It should be normal, rather than daunting, to say "racism is not the problem" when the evidence points that way.

Here are a couple of examples to illustrate why this is so frustrating. In 2017, a false accusation of racially motivated murder led to a false conviction. Once the conviction was overturned, the story of Motlamola Mosweu's death outside Coligny in North West dropped from national and international interest into oblivion. But court documents indicate that Mosweu, 15, might have survived if only he had received proper medical attention. The ambulance Pieter Doorewaard and Philip Schutte hailed at the police station which proved faster than bystanders trying to phone direct took an hour to arrive. It did not have the proper equipment, nor was proper protocol followed in delivering emergency care. Did Mosweu die from a neck fracture aggravated by the EMT's improper use of a spineboard? Did the lack of intubation drown him in his own blood? Did he die from lying in the dust for an hour, or was he beyond help?

Whatever the answer, Mosweu's case exemplified shockingly poor public healthcare. Instead of making an issue about this, the ambulance letdown was dropped dead. A similar tragedy besets public schools.

In 2019, the school year started with a "racist" scandal in SchweizerReneke, though racism was not the problem in Elsabe Olivier's classroom. Noone apologised for the false accusation. The Brackenfell High School matric dance was cleared of racism charges, though again, noone apologised.

"Do you agree that these days all this talk of racism and colonialism is by politicians who are trying to find excuses for their own failures?" The Institute of Race Relations hired Markdata to do a representative survey that asked exactly that. Most said "yes". Most people see the pattern: bad news, blame racism. Advocate Nazeer Cassim sees the pattern elsewhere. Cassim presided over the disciplinary committee that investigated Solly Tshitangano, the former Eskom chief procurement officer who accused CEO Andre de Ruyter of racism. Cassim not only found that Tshitangano's accusation was baseless, but also that it formed part of a larger pattern of playing the racecard" to dodge accountability. Cassim described this as "typical", the new "South African way of things".

After Cassim's findings, News24 assistant editor Pieter du Toit reported that "allegations of racism are made too flippantly, too quiclky and taken on board without any forethought". Eusebius McKaizer shot back "suddenly all racism gets laughed off by one of 1652's beneficiaries".

I don't see a joke, but I do see why it is so frightening to ever say that racism is not the problem, let alone draw attention to the broader pattern of distracting fake racism. Do so and you are sure to be strawmanned by someone trendy. This would not have bothered Du Toit, but for many people the prospect is chilling.

So nice people hide the good news that racism is now abnormal.

When Markdata asked, Have you personally experienced any form of racism in the last five years?", 80% of respondents said 'no'. Good news. Racism is not normally the problem these days. That is one reason the burden of proof should fall on those who allege it. But "advocates" in the court of public opinion act as if racism is so common that it must be assumed to apply wherever, whenever, until proven otherwise. And if it is proven otherwise, forget it, no apology, no pattern to see, no lesson learnt.

Hence the more-of-the-same response to real crises.

The first question in the survey was, "What are the two biggest problems in SA?". Only 3% said racism. In contrast, unemployment, crime, corruption, bad housing, service delivery, and poor education were identified as major problems.

"Racism is NOT the problem" is a campaign launched from this 2020 survey to acknowledge the unfashionably good news that racism is now relatively scarce, so that we can get real about the problems that most people want addressed. As if to prove our point, two billboard companies refused to flight an advertisement that said nothing but "www.RacismisNOTtheproblem.co.za", a website that explains how to think about racism empirically.

Still, we persevere, as all South Africans must if we are going to call out the grand fib that behind every problem lies a racist apparition. It is normal to think racism is not the problem; it must become normal to say so too.

Gabriel Crouse is head of campaigns at the Institute of Race Relations IRR , and project leader of the Racism is NOT the problem initiative

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