Easing poverty shouldn’t be a racial exercise

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Today is Diwali when Hindus celebrate the victorious journey of Lord Rama from exile – a story of the battle for light over darkness.

As clay lamps are lit to symbolise this hope for enlightenment, we can find parallels in global and national struggles for equality. This victory can be seen in the re-election of Obama – is this not a message of hope for non-racialism?

We are falling into a rut of alienating our fellow South Africans through legislation, cultural misunderstanding, insensitive behaviour and discriminatory practices. We hide behind cultural barriers that allow us to do whatever we please under the guise of “my culture”. We are hearing “It’s a white man’s way and we will have nothing of it”; “African solutions for African problems”; “Westernisation of our people is responsible for the high divorce rate in the Indian community”; “Our girls are getting too western in dress, thinking and behaviour”… And so the mindless accusations pile up to rationalise a changing world of seamless borders and global influences.

Recently, President Zuma warned black intelligensia for being too critical of his style of leadership. He called on traditional leaders to “solve African problems the African way, not the white man’s way”. This injunction is a wily rationalisation for the defiant attitude he adopts against a critical judiciary.

If we personify an inanimate justice system by labelling it racially, we can defy it as we please. We can even trash our constitution. Barney Mthombothi aptly alerted us to the fact that our president, the guardian of this supreme law of the land, has nothing but contempt for it.

The tentacles of darkness reach into the structures of government as like-minded people are appointed to positions of power to be custodians of the president’s whims. They don’t upstage him through their mediocrity.

Perhaps on account of this, the eminent Jeremy Gauntlet will never be appointed to the bench under Zuma’s reign despite being regarded by his peers as one of the sharpest legal minds in the country if not internationally. Instead, we appoint less impressive substitutes – competent but unexceptional people.

This trend towards rewarding mediocrity has a deleterious effect on all levels of functioning from education to health services impacting ultimately on all aspects of service delivery.

In our battle for enlightenment, we need to understand that poverty is a universal challenge. This is why it’s of grave concern to learn the latest BEE proposals will penalise charities that do not have 100 percent black beneficiaries. The propsals state that firms could lose BEE points if they donate to such charities. How can we turn away a child because of his race?

This is against the very notion of ubuntu. It’s an aberration of justice that will require all social workers and community and religious organisations to re-examine their belief systems and question their humanity.

In his book, We are the Poors, Ashwin Desai deracialises poverty in his study of Chatsworth – an apartheid designated township thus: “Race and class, the old chestnuts still loom large… oblivious to the ruling post-apartheid political faction. Unemployed, single mother, community defender, neighbour, factory worker, popular criminal, rap artists and genuine ou (good human being).” These constructs all come to make up the collective identities of “the poors”.

So how can we justify this neo- apartheid ruling that says if funders support an organisation that is not 100 percent black, it will be penalised on its BEE scorecard.

If this legislation comes into being, we will be travelling back into darkness and no amount of clay lamps will be able to light our way forward.

l Dr Devi Raja is an academic, author and psychologist.


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