W Cape premier tells of racism towards wife

By Sheena Adams Time of article published Mar 26, 2005

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Western Cape Premier Ebrahim Rasool says his wife often endures racist remarks and disrespectful behaviour. Interviewed this week at a Cape Town symposium on racism, he said the problem ran so deep in the province that his wife, Rosieda Shabodien, was often on the receiving end of racism.

"I'm a bit more well-known, so people treat me with due respect but white people have no problem coming to a black person in a shop and asking where the tins of baked beans are.

"It happens to all of us and it also happens to children at school where they have to hide who they are in order to be assimilated into the mainstream.

"That is why we have grasped the nettle now and said let us open up this debate because otherwise it will haunt us every time we build houses and every time we build schools."

Rasool said the government had reached "the limits of its wisdom" in trying to find solutions to racism in the province. He said it was now time for society to take up the race debate "whether in shebeens or churches" in light of a spate of vicious racist attacks and tensions in and around Cape Town in recent weeks.

In particular, blacks and coloureds needed to find common ground to thrash out differences.

"We are all in trouble and we need to hold each others' hands. I'd like us to use whatever we need to use as the government to open up this debate to say to people that it's okay to speak about race relations and that it's okay to go beyond 'rainbowism' to deal with the hard things that make it difficult for people to find each other and to live together," Rasool said.

Rasool was speaking this week at a symposium on racism in Cape Town at which a panel of academics, including university rectors, took part.

Rasool's call for widespread debate on the scourge of racism follows comments by Cape Town mayor Nomaindia Mfeketo earlier this month when she slammed the city for not "moving in step" with the rest of the country in terms of racial tolerance.

It also follows violent protests over housing waiting lists in the largely coloured area of Bokmakierie where residents have accused the government of putting the concerns of homeless black Joe Slovo residents ahead of their own.

Racial tensions were also ignited by the recent stabbing of 15-year-old Marawaan Blackenberg, a pupil at Ned Doman High School in Athlone, in an alleged racial incident.

A further sign of tension was the provincial education department's court battle with the Afrikaans-medium Laerskool Mikro in Kuils River, which has objected to accommodating English-speaking children.

In an interview with Weekend Argus, Rasool said that when people spoke about the survival of Afrikaans, for instance, it was equally important to talk about the death of the language of the Khoi and the San people.

"Let's problematise all of that, not to blame each other and not to shoot political bullets at each other but to heal the Western Cape.

"When we plan the school curriculum it's about affirming the slave history of the coloured community and it's about dealing with the genocide that happened to the Khoi and San people."

The "twilight notion" that some coloured people carried around with them - that they "were not white enough before and not black enough now" - also needed to be addressed along with the problems of white people who "retire behind gated and alarmed communities".

He said the province was lagging behind the rest of the country because it was "never in the interest" of previous provincial governments to open up a debate on race and human relations. A stifling of discussion meant that coloured people were still grappling with trying to understand what equality meant.

"The coloured communities are not necessarily angry at the black government - they love Mandela. I think that they just did not understand to what extent equality would mean certain sacrifices for them, such as with the welfare system and with the rescrambling of the housing waiting list, which was exclusively the property of coloureds before."

Rasool said a telling indication of the severity of the problem was the racial infighting at the Cape Bar which was beset by allegations of racism made by Cape judge president John Hlophe.

"(The judiciary) was set up as the final arbiters of what is right and wrong and yet they are mired in their own controversies."

He promised an active campaign of debate and said the government planned to use a selection of forums to deal with the issue and steer discussions about "everyday life" in the province.

Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Town and one of the panelists, Njabulo Ndebele, said the way South Africans experienced the constitution was at the heart of the race debate.

He loved driving around the country but carried with him a fear that one day his car would break down in a remote farm area.

"I wonder what would happen if I have to knock on someone's door and it is answered by an Afrikaner farmer who shoots first and asks questions afterwards?

"The constitution allows us to experience freedom of movement but I have learnt that I should experience that freedom with some sense of caution."

He said people would be wise to think of the constitution as a "guideline towards an end point" and not be "dazzled by its perfection".

Rector of the University of the Western, Cape Brian O'Connell, said in spite of the many hurdles there was a "discourse of hope" in the province which showed up sometimes in unexpected ways.

He said that only one member of a Mitchell's Plain choir he came across recently did not have all his teeth. "In a short space of 10 years they've learned that not only can they keep their teeth for life, it is also in their power to do so. It's what I consider to be a near miracle," he said to laughter.

Rasool said he hoped to use the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Charter on June 26 to gauge how far the province had come in terms of racial equality.

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