Anti-Racism Week… a first for SA

MATTHEW HIRSCH

South Africa is just at the start of the discussion about race – this was one of the things discussed at the Western Cape launch of the Anti-Racism Network.

The network launch at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation in Gardens, was part of Anti-Racism Week.

The Anti-Racism Network South Africa is spearheaded by the Ahmed Kathrada and Nelson Mandela foundations. The network represents more than 80 organisations and was formed in November last year. The idea of Anti Racism Week was launched in February this year and is the first initiative of its kind in the country.

The keynote speaker at the launch was Momodou Malcolm Jallow, the vice-chairperson of the European Network Against Racism.

He said the network was extremely important because of the need to have one voice.

“We know South Africa’s history and that great people have fought and struggled for justice. That’s the image that most of us outside South Africa see.”

Mr Jallow from Sweden said he arrived in the country last week and started engaging with people. “I thought you were leading the way but the conversation has just started here. I began to wonder what happened since 1994. I thought the conversation took place then. One thing that we need to understand (about this conversation) is that it is going to be painful but it’s also going to be okay. Without that discussion nothing will change.”

He said the network is important and needed but it needs to be managed.

“The network is bringing all these voices together so that we can have a conversation. Together you become more effective, stronger and more powerful. That is what we have seen with our Network in Europe because we’ve become a partner with the European Union.”

Mr Jallow added that it was important to realise that South Africa was at a crossroads. “There has to be common ground,” he added.

Fanie du Toit, director of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, said he thought the most important thing about the national action plan being drafted to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerances, was the empty pages. “We’ve got to fill up these empty spaces as citizens.”

He also encouraged everyone to sign the pledge and to speak out against racism. “It must become part of every single moment and everything we do. We have to tackle racism.

“South Africa is at the cutting edge of that debate in the world right now. We have an opportunity to cut new ground here.”

He also congratulated the network and said he thought it was a wonderful initiative.

“I want to pledge myself as an individual in this fight against racism. Let’s hold each other accountable but let’s walk this road together. In the end, non-racialism may not be that far off.”

Sean Moodley, director of the Anti-Racism Network, said the organisation was started last year. “Tonight is about setting up a network of NGOs from around the Western Cape that will be a part of the Anti-Racism Network.”

He said it took them a year to come up with the concept, guiding principles and a mission statement. There are 80 civic societies from around the country that have helped to do that.

Mr Moodley said the next step was taking this campaign forward. “We have to get grassroot organisations as part of the network. Currently we have organisations doing good work but don’t have a grassroots touch.”

He said that getting people such as teachers, principals, community workers and religious leaders was vital.

He said it was important to talk about race in the country.

“I think that if we launched it last year it wouldn’t have had the same impact this year.”

Representatives from the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development were also present.

It called on the public to add their input on the draft national action plan, which has been published on the departmental website for public consultation. They also said the department had discussed making hate speech a criminal act.