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A cursory glance at the news yesterday would have been enough to remind South Africans of the role that race still plays in this society.
Most prominent was the debate over Brett Murray’s painting of President Jacob Zuma and his penis. It has been telling how opinion has largely been divided between the white and black parts of our community: the former have generally adopted a liberal approach to what they see as satire and the latter have mostly been outraged by the disrespectful nature of the artwork.
Revealingly, early radio and online reports on the two men who vandalised the painting at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg yesterday quickly reflected the fact that one was white and the other black.
To the west of Johannesburg the Mafikeng High Court was sitting in Ventersdorp to pass judgment on two men accused of murdering Eugene Terre’Blanche. Outside the court were two groups: one of white men in camouflage uniform and sympathetic to the AWB which Terre’Blanche had once led, the other black youths shouting “shoot the boer” and backing the accused.
On the southern tip of the country this news-paper reported on the attempt by five employees – four coloured and one white – to have the Department of Correctional Services employment equity plan struck down. The issue in dispute was the department’s decision to apply national demographics to its equity targets in the Western Cape, thus allegedly favouring black employees.
The many South Africans who once clung to the notion of a rainbow nation will find it all a bit exhausting.
They will remember how, 18 years ago, people talked about the twin projects of the first democratic government: reconciliation and reconstruction.
Most observers might suggest today that we have failed at both.
Over the 18 years it has become evident that reconciliation requires reconstruction if it is to succeed. But it also requires leadership.
This could begin with the president himself publicly addressing the issue of the Murray painting and suggesting that we all calm down.