President Jacob Zume visited Kimberley yesterday to attend the launch of Child Protection week. Picture: Johnnie van Niekerk

Sarah Evans

[email protected]

RECENT events in the country are a reminder that racism and a lack of respect for human dignity are still prevalent in society, President Jacob Zuma said yesterday.

He said “recent events” were a reminder of slavery and the legacy of Saartjie Baartman, whose naked body was paraded as an “object” by European settlers.

Zuma addressed a crowd of children, religious leaders and government officials at the launch of Child Protection Week at the Mayibuye Centre in Galeshewe, Kimberley, yesterday.

He emphasised the need to teach children about the legacy of colonialism and apartheid, adding that stories like Baartman’s were easily forgotten.

“It didn’t occur to those who did this to her that she was a human being. When she died, her brains and other body parts were preserved in jars and put on display. What a cruelty!” Zuma said.

He said the country did not need to be reminded, as it had been through “recent examples”, of this as society tries to move forward.

However, he said children needed to be taught about respect for their elders and human dignity.

“To us, this (Baartman’s story) was a matter of life and death. To others, it was entertainment,” he said, adding that “recent events” were a clear reminder of how sectors of society had different views on dignity.

Zuma said SA needed to “work hard” to become a united country, adding that sectors needed to meet each other half-way on these issues.

He did not specify what these “recent events” were.

The president and the ANC are suing artist Brett Murray and the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg for displaying The Spear – a satirical painting of Zuma with his penis exposed.

In court papers, Zuma’s lawyers argued that the president’s right to dignity had been eroded by Murray’s artwork.

Yesterday, Zuma thanked Nelson Mandela for “demanding” the return of Baartman’s remains to South Africa.

“Only a leading freedom fighter, who understood dignity, could achieve this. We need to tell South African children such stories. Not to make them hate, but to tell them how bad hatred is.

“Recent examples remind us that even if we forget these things, because it is easy to do so, we still have the task of building a new South Africa. We must build a non-racist society,” Zuma said.

He said it was important to teach children about ubuntu and to have a “basic appreciation” of humility, the humanity of others and the right to human dignity.

“We no longer have the respect of children. We no longer fear God. When children know that we abuse them, something is wrong with society,” Zuma said.

He said children needed to be taught the “painful truth of how the black majority was oppressed and dehumanised, and treated as settlers in their own country”.

“Children must know what racism is” so that they would not to do the same to others.

Zuma emphasised the need for families to be strengthened in society. He said colonialism and apartheid had weakened especially African families, through oppressive systems such as migrant labour. Zuma said this legacy was still weakening family units.

“If the family is weakened, society is weakened,” he said.

Zuma added that the colonial and apartheid eras laid the foundation for broken families as fathers had to travel far distances to find work. Many children grew up without fathers, he said.

“The migrant system undermined family life and created disintegration of families, which compounds unemployment. We still need to look fundamentally at the role of families. If we look away, the problem is perpetuated.”

He said children needed to be taught respect, and also “fear” of doing wrong.

“In the past, our parents had a stick which instilled a fear of wrongdoing in us. Now, we can’t do that, because the constitution does not allow it, so we must compensate for that. We must do extraordinary things to teach our children.

“We must also teach our children about God. They must fear God and know God is looking at everything they do.”

Zuma said his own story was an example of how having big dreams and being supported by the community could make one successful.

“I had no father. I didn’t go to school, but I had a dream. I took a decision not to submit to challenges, but to fight.

“It took a long time. I never thought I would be the president,” Zuma said.