19/02/2018 15:37 SAST | Updated 19/02/2018 15:37 SAST

How Much Of The Fear-Based Apartheid Pretext Are We Prepared To Dismantle?

What we would do well to realise is that apartheid was an ideology predicated on racial fear, erasure and systematic exclusion.

Modern Athlete

There is, by now, something that South Africans ought to have learnt about universities and the "racialised" friction between black and white youths in post-apartheid South Africa. If we look at the Thabang Mosiako incident, the 2016 Free State University "rugby spectators" attack on black students, and the 2015 "Afrikaans language" protests, among others, we begin to see patterns.

There is an alarming regularity of racist attacks reported in our media, many of which arise in these institutions. The danger is that we tend to look at each one in isolation and deny the need for a more sustained focus across different incidents.

Universities are places of higher learning. However, the one thing we do not learn at institutions of higher learning is how to address our race relations. The denialism in broader society about our past has been transferred down the generations intact, even to those who did not experience apartheid and colonialism directly. The acrimony among the younger generation of South Africans mimics that of the generations that lived through our past.

Black and white students come from vastly different lived experiences and socialisation, a legacy of apartheid spatial and systemic racism, which we have not done enough to reverse. From the diagnostic report of the national action plan, one is able to see how inequality, access to education, housing, and employment is experienced through a racialised prism. South Africans know that having or not having access to any of the above has a lot to do with one's race.

We therefore know that we await very different futures as students of different races. Black students have talked of "black tax", a testament of the fact that one's success as a black professional is shared, especially financially, among a much broader spread of relatives than they believe would be the case otherwise.

And it's not something that will just go away by itself. The attack on Thabang Mosiako, sadly, is also an attack on the notion that sport is the most powerful instrument to forge that nonracial unity that will unite us. A national sports hero, who commands admiration and respect from fans across the racial spectrum, is beaten to a pulp by fellow citizens who most likely would cheer him on when he was on the international stage.

Could it be that Thabang Mosiako represents not only our athletic national pride, but also an implicit fear that some have of a black man? Was his attack an indication of a black person not knowing "his place"?

The acting out of this racial fear underlies much of the interaction between black and white in our post-apartheid South Africa today.

If he is to feel a pride enough to do his best for us on the global stage again, do we as that united nation that has been partly reconciled by sport, not owe it to the likes of him to correct our racialised, fickle interactions?

Now that the incident is with our justice system, what are the prospects that it will be dealt with in ways that will discourage or deter any other South Africans from acting in this manner in future?

In a context where there are none who are racially neutral, would it be too much to ask if we were to expect total condemnation of the attack from white people themselves?

Black people, coloured people, Muslims and similar have to condemn violence from our communities, but this is never asked, indeed, never expected, of the white community – an indication of how whiteness fills societal norms.

Much of the public condemnation might depend on how our media frame the story from this point forward. Will it be a story that is made to be primarily about the effects of alcohol on the common good, public civility, or student lifestyles – might we, in that way, lose the opportunity to interrogate the racial dimensions of the incident properly and fully?

Will it be too much to ask for the story to be steered towards a goal of apology and reparation? Will certain well-known white civil rights groups focus once again on the legitimacy of the fears of the white students, as they come from one of our minority-but-still-dominant communities? Or will they address the issue as something worthy of apology?

What we would do well to realise is that apartheid was an ideology predicated on racial fear, erasure and systematic exclusion. It is the preservation of this very core argument that laid the basis for apartheid and racial brutality against black populations for centuries before apartheid. The acting out of this racial fear underlies much of the interaction between black and white in our post-apartheid South Africa today.

The critical question is, how much of this fear-based and exclusionary apartheid pretext are we prepared to dismantle? Do we need help? If we think we do not need help, can we at least acknowledge that there may be a problem when our children – born in our "New South Africa"; 'Mandela's Children/Born-Frees', even the more educated amongst them – are at each other's throats?

Shall our media encourage or discourage us as we try to face the need to truly address the legacy of our racial past? If they do help, and those questions haunt us even more from this point forward – if they manage to preoccupy our minds – then that discomfort ought to help in getting us to seriously engage with our race crisis. That way, we may be helped to avoid the question, "When is the next one coming?"

Kenneth Lukuko is the senior project leader for the Building an Inclusive Society Programme's community healing project at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation.