SA still waiting in the shade for change as race-based fixes fail - Businesslive

24 February 2020 - Only when — but not until — investment pours in, jobs grow and households have money to spend on their future, will the idea of a state committed to inclusive growth be believable to a society that can’t help but remember how bad apartheid really was ... because it is fated to continue carrying the burden.

Michael Morris

Research on what South Africans think about classifying apartheid as a crime against humanity shows that over the years the numbers have remained within a bracket that suggests an overwhelming majority have no problem with placing our immediate past in this damning category.

Research since 2003 as part of the SA Reconciliation Barometer survey published by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) put the percentage of South Africans who agree that apartheid was a crime against humanity between a high of 87.8% (2006) and a low of 76.4% (2013).

The 2017 barometer found that among white South Africans 70.3% agreed in 2003 that apartheid was a crime against humanity, with the number declining slightly to 67.7% — still a sizeable majority — in 2017. Among black South Africans the figure fell from 88.9% to 78.9% between 2003 and 2017.

The numbers tally with a line in the report that "(six) in 10 South Africans believe that both those who were and those who were not oppressed during apartheid need to form part of the reconciliation process, with this sentiment being reflected across all race groups”.

The preceding line is all the more pointed: “Six in 10 South Africans ... feel that reconciliation ... cannot fully take its course while those who were oppressed under apartheid remain poor.” These insights broadly align with research by the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) over the years.

Dwelling on the scale of apartheid atrocity reminded me of sentiments expressed in this column almost two years ago, when I recounted interviewing a man in the shade of an ancient avocado tree standing alone in an expanse of patchy grass littered with broken bricks and the glittery fragments of shattered bathroom tiles. The old tree was all that remained of the man’s family home in District Six, he himself being a victim of the suburb’s destruction.

It seemed, as he stood there, that “the intervening years had collapsed into a single impossibly bustling yesterday and he was momentarily silenced by the intolerable freight of absence, of nullity. It was all gone, yet remained unbearable.”

I ventured that “you could multiply that emotional tonnage many times over and still not quite come out at a tally commensurate with the real import of dispossession ... suffered by millions of South Africans.”

Two years later, these truths remain. But there is a more acute sense of how much energy has been squandered on how we define our inherited condition, at the expense of practically overcoming it. That race has been placed at the centre of the former — whether in the rhetoric of “white intransigence” or “land reform” or transformation welded to “racial redress” — has had the ironic consequence of guaranteeing not just continuing divisiveness, but pitifully little success in undoing the material consequences of our history for the victims themselves.

As I wrote in 2018, the “reliance on race as an indicator of who we are as individuals and as a society, where we have come from and where we are heading, is an error almost indistinguishable from the costly racial enthusiasms of the past, of which that lone avocado tree in District Six is an accusing symbol”.

Only when — but not until — investment pours in, jobs grow and households have money to spend on their future, will the idea of a state committed to inclusive growth be believable to a society that can’t help but remember how bad apartheid really was ... because it is fated to continue carrying the burden.

• Morris is head of media at the Institute of Race Relations.

https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/columnists/2020-02-23-michael-morris-sa-still-waiting-in-the-shade-for-change-as-race-based-fixes-fail/

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