Racism: A symptom of a much uglier plague

by Rampe Hlobo SJ

The period between the two world wars was marked by political systems that led to the suffering of many and left millions of people dead. Soon after the end of World War I fascism grew in the southern parts of Europe and a decade later German Nazism flourished, culminating in World War II. Preceding these evil systems in other parts of the world European expansionism, in the form of colonialism, had taken root. In Africa, particularly, the subsequently death toll because of this was far more than that of fascism and Nazism.

All these diabolic political systems, due to their tragic dehumanising consequences, should not and cannot be eulogised in any way for whatever reason by a decent human being. This is particularly true for someone in a leadership position. It is, at its very least – as we have seen with Helen Zille’s recent tweet – irresponsible and divisive to do so.

Praising any aspect of colonialism in post-apartheid South Africa is not only reflective of the symptoms of an inherently insensitive racist attitude; it is also arrogant, deep seated and the stubborn superiority mind-set of a bigot. This is the same attitude that led four white students of the University of the Free State to humiliate black university employees by forcing them to eat meat soaked in urine a few years ago. This same vile attitude manifested itself again at the beginning of 2016 when another white woman, Penny Sparrow, took to social media and labelled blacks on a Durban beach as ‘monkeys’.

These racist incidents, including the recent disgraceful verbal assault of a black woman and manhandling of her daughter by a white man at a Spur restaurant in Johannesburg, not only point to the great challenge of racism facing all South Africans, but also to the tenacity of an attitude with tragic consequences that needs to be challenged and changed.

The false belief that some human beings could by nature be superior and others inferior should be vehemently refuted and confronted with the contempt it deserves. This attitude is the uglier perennial plague divisively rampaging our South African society.  It is, now, important for all of us to remember that human beings are equal in their natural dignity and none is either superior or inferior to the other by nature. The words of Steve Biko echo loudly: “As a prelude whites must be made to realize that they are only human, not superior.  Same with blacks.  They must be made to realize that they are also human, not inferior”.

These incidents focus our attention, once again, on the problem: the need to tackle the legacy of apartheid that tragically impedes white racists to perceive, recognise and accept other people of a different skin colour, particularly blacks, as human beings with human dignity. This has been sorely neglected.

The attitude of people who have benefited from the horrendous apartheid system and continue to use its logic, arrogantly disregarding the profundity of the damage caused – the pain and suffering inflicted by the system – is sinful. It is sinful because it “is an offence against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is a failure in genuine love for God and neighbour caused by a perverse attachment…” says the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). The CCC further explains sin as a “wounding the nature of a person and injuring human solidarity” (#1849).

All forms of discrimination, intimidation and deceit, are inter alia impediments to building a genuine and authentic human family. They should be discredited, faced-up to and challenged. Those who still hang on to the false belief or attitude that fallaciously makes them think that they are superior to others by nature, should be unequivocally challenged. They need to know that their dehumanizing attitude will no longer be tolerated. We are all human beings with human dignity. Nobody can or should even think they can deny this.

*Fr Rampe Holbo is the Parish Priest of St Mary’s, Nyanga, Cape Town.

Fr Rampe Hlobo SJ

Fr. Rampe Hlobo SJ (born Soweto 1972; entered the Jesuits 1993; ordained 2008) is Delegate for Migrants and Refugees for the Society of Jesus in South Africa.

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