South Africans are stuck with the issue of race. It is with us and will always be, unless explicit steps are taken to address the scourge.
That has been the prognosis of one of the country’s leading psychologists, Dr Saths Cooper, as he attempts to analyse recent racially provocative attacks and utterances that have impacted negatively on efforts to enhance better relations between communities.
In an interview this week, he said 19 years might have elapsed since political liberation, yet it was too soon to see conclusive signs of reconciliation and a patent moving beyond race in South African society.
Cooper, who is president of the International Union of Psychological Science, cited the example of Zama Khumalo, the young journalist who caused a racial stir with his Facebook invitation to a “Big Black Braai” to celebrate the deaths of 42 white children in a drowning tragedy 28 years ago.
Khumalo caused anger and consternation in many circles by telling his Facebook friends he would be sending out invitations to the braai to celebrate the anniversary of the tragedy in which the children died when their school bus plunged into the Westdene Dam in Johannesburg in 1985.
He apparently told his Facebook friends the occasion was to be held on the anniversary of the tragedy, March 27, and there would be DJs and fireworks to celebrate.
He listed the names of 24 of the 42 victims, adding the comment that their deaths were “much appreciated, my Lord!”
Khumalo, 24, later posted an apology, saying he deeply regretted his action and the “pain” he caused to the parties concerned.
Among those who expressed shock at Khumalo’s racist posting was Katherine Shaddock, whose half-sister, Mary-Ann Miles, was one of the victims of the bus disaster.
She has now reportedly accepted Khumalo’s apology.
Cooper believed Khumalo’s racially provocative posting needed to be seen in the context of a country still steeped in the issue of race. He said he regarded Khumalo as someone who understood the purport and consequences of his utterances, especially when they were electronically posted.
“I can only go by what he said and his subsequent apology,” Cooper said.
“He meant it. He sought attention, for whatever reason.
“But apologise he did, and the sister (Katherine Shaddock) of the child who lost her life 28 years ago has accepted this – a magnanimous gesture, revealing more of her sense of humanity than Khumalo, who now enters the annals of notoriety.”
Social media often revealed the private racist (and other) thoughts of people who often had little understanding of the viral environment, Cooper said.
Many South Africans tended to use “racial spectacles” to view their world and often resorted to expressions like “because of BEE, there are no jobs for us”, “we’re not black enough” and “our kids are denied admission”.
“Then there are the clearly racist attacks on persons, physically and verbally, like in Khumalo’s instance,” Cooper said.
Cooper, a former Black Consciousness activist, said he believed 19 years of political liberation was “too soon to see a reconciliation and a patent moving beyond race in South African society”.
He also pointed to the absence of proactive steps in schools and places of rec-reation and work to ensure racial harmony and peaceful coexistence.
“We need to engage meaningfully with one another, across race, religious, class, organisational and other considerations, to truly find ourselves in one another,” Cooper said.
“Our children deserve this, to obviate our nightmares haunting them.”