The Anti-Racism Network South Africa (ARNSA) has called on the public to support Anti-Racism Week from March 14-21.
On Thursday, the group hosted its media launch for the week, where the theme, #UniteAgainstRacism, as well as some of the campaign activities, were made public.
The launch took place at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg, where Anti-Racism Week patrons, guest speaker, Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi, and supporting organisations gathered.
ARNSA’s coordinator, Busisiwe Nkosi, explained that Anti-Racism Week, which is being held for the fourth time in South Africa, aims to create public awareness about racism, how it affects individuals and broader society, and how it can be tackled. “Anti-Racism Week is held annually during Human Rights Month. It culminates on Human Rights Day and the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It’s about ensuring that there is countrywide focus on tackling racism and that it remains on the national agenda.
“This year, we have a specific focus on sports and anti-racism with an international cricket match between South Africa and Sri Lanka being dedicated to supporting the campaign. The week will also be an opportunity for the country to reiterate its support for athlete, Caster Semenya, who is currently challenging the IAAF’s regressive policies, which raises questions about its treatment of black female athletes.
“We have also refined the Zimele Racism Reporting App, which was piloted last year. Now, the South African Human Rights Commission has agreed to partner on the initiative to respond to complaints received via the app. So there will be a strong focus on how technology can be used to tackle racism. We are also planning to engage in discussions around tackling racism in schools and workplaces.”
Nkosi added that while Anti-Racism Week is initiated by ARNSA, it aims to get all sectors of society involved and encourages self-initiated activities during the week.
“We hope that all sports clubs, schools, NGOs, businesses, labour unions, faith-based institutions, community and cultural groups and individuals will use the week as a platform to start their own dialogues, education drives and campaigns against racism. We want the public to adopt this week as their own, and use it to start addressing the sometimes deep-seated issues around race, identity and transformation within their own spaces.”
Ahmed Kathrada Foundation Director, Neeshan Balton, who serves on the ARNSA Steering Committee, said that this year’s Anti-Racism Week happens at the same time that similar campaigns are being held globally. “On March 16, there will be demonstrations against racism in various countries. This is in response to the growth of right wing racist and fascist movements globally, which are driven by an anti-immigrant, anti-black, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic agenda.
“These movements are increasingly connected to each other, make use of new media technology to mobilise support and are gaining enough popularity to contest, and in some instances, win elections in both developed and developing countries. In some ways, the era that we live in, is reminiscent of the period preceding the rise of Nazism in Europe.”
Balton added that South Africa was not immune to the problem, with right wing and conservative groups locally increasingly networking and finding common ground with similar organisations and political allies in other countries.
“To the contrary, the anti-racists – the progressives in society – remain fragmented, with very little coordination and organisation across communities, provinces, countries and continents.
“This needs to change. We need to ensure that our schools, religious institutes, community associations, our universities, workplaces, political parties, unions and sports clubs remain truly non-racist and actively challenge discrimination, stereotypes and prejudices. We need to ensure that we link up across communities and countries to build a world that values diversity, equality and basic human rights. In this way, we can start building what anti-apartheid activist, Ahmed Kathrada, called the ‘Greenpeace’ against racism.”
Balton said that if people do not unite against racism, and challenge it in all its forms, it can pose a threat to democracy and stability across the world.
Fellow ARNSA Steering Committee member, Stan Henkeman, from the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, echoed Balton’s views. He indicated that in South Africa, there was little thought given to finding solutions jointly, “in a way that does not polarise, but brings people together around common basic values”.
Henkeman said, “Over the last few years, we have seen a series of race related incidents in South Africa. More recent examples have included the segregation of learners at a school in Schweizer Reneke, racial tension at Clifton Beach and racialised discourse surrounding the deaths of pupils at Hoërskool Driehoek. A noticeable trend in many of these instances is the inability of stakeholders to bring people together to find joint and long-term solutions. There’s often a polarity of views, that’s sometimes further exacerbated by political or community leadership, with little regard for the serious consequences that inflamed racial tensions can result in.
“We need to be talking about new ways to address the contemporary challenges of racism; to replicate best practices to tackle it; to capacitate communities to deal with racial issues and injustices of the past; and to commit to working together, across colour, creed and class to find joint solutions.
“I think one way in which this can be done is through the Global Dignity campaign, which Anti-Racism Week will be used as a platform to launch. This campaign will focus on engaging young people at schools to participate in an initiative where they will portray their understanding of dignity in whichever way, though whichever medium. The campaign will see dialogues at school level where learners discuss their take on dignity. Schools will then identify learners that will participate in similar dialogues with other schools at provincial/ regional levels. The campaign will culminate on Global Dignity Day on 16 October 2019 in a national dialogue between representatives from different provinces. The campaign at a school, provincial and national level will feature exhibitions of the contributions of learners.”
Allan Zinn, from the Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy, also represented on the ARNSA Steering Committee, said that he hoped the week would empower people to educate themselves and others about racism and how it can be challenged. “We hope that it encourages education on a mass scale, mobilisation of all sectors in society against this scourge, as well as empowers people to take action against racism and not remain silent in the face if it.”
Zinn, citing examples such as the Adam Catzavelos, Alochna Moodley and Hoërskool Driehoek cases, added that he was “greatly encouraged by the swift censure of racism by the public. The type of outrage following such incidences over the last few years has resulted in racists being publicly rebuked, with some facing serious consequences, such as the loss of their jobs. It’s important to continue making racism expensive for racists”.
He added, “We hope that this type of activism can be built upon and that we can start addressing the sometimes overlooked structural racism that remains in society. Anti-Racism Week provides us a platform to start the conversations in this regard. It also gives us the opportunity to actively work towards uniting against racism, which as history has demonstrated, was used to divide and marginalise.”
To access more information about Anti-Racism Week, visit www.arnsa.org.za and check out the visual media and information toolkit