Racism: Cried My Beloved Country

For South Africans, the 2019 schooling year began with cries of racism when a school in the North West Province of South Africa, Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke, dominated headlines after a photograph of Grade R pupils went viral on social media. The image depicted black pupils sitting separately from white pupils. Pending an investigation, teacher Elana Barkhuizen was suspended. As expected, the South African social media community cried woes of racism, with strong condemnation jostled at the school and teacher by senior government officials, civil societies and exasperated South Africans.  

When I first saw the photograph on Twitter, I, too, was infuriated and conjectured it to be an indubitable act of racism on the part of the predominantly white school — the white teacher in particular. This stereotyped narrative of mine, however, changed marginally when I came across more photographs on Twitter of the same class, now exhibiting the same black pupils sitting alongside their white peers. Whilst I did not dismiss my initial racism perspective completely (due to aspects such as plausible malignant photograph-meddling), I felt faintly embarrassed for crying racism alongside thousands of unacquainted, overzealous South Africans. Embarrassed for crying woes of racism without gathering all the facts necessary to formulate a well-corroborated point of view.

“Racism needs to be eradicated, but not be searched for where there is none to be found,” were the words of Judge Connie Prinsloo who lifted the suspension of teacher Elana Barkhuizen in the Johannesburg Labour Court, South Africa. Although the Labour Court’s judgement focuses greatly on the procedural nature of Barkhuizen’s suspension, the substantive remarks made by the judge on the issue of racism seemed to provide an answer as to why I felt embarrassed for crying racism from the very first time I came across the supposedly racist photograph.

We, the South Africans of colour, have taken such a tenacious covenant in trying to eradicate racism in South Africa, primarily due to our past which was embodied predominantly in racial discriminatory laws, that we tend to — as articulated exquisitely by Judge Prinsloo — search for racism even where there is none to be found. And, by doing so, we do not intensify our struggle against annihilating elements of racism from our beloved country; instead, we exacerbate this fire of racism by adding fuel to it through our fanatical and unnecessary cries of racism.

Moreover, we unknowingly and innocently support political opportunists whose motive is only one: to divide the country into ‘them’ and ‘us’.

What actually happened in the Grade R class at Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke at the beginning of this year remains unconfirmed and inconclusive due to pending investigations by the school and state. Is the school and teacher, in fact, guilty of racism and segregation of white pupils from black pupils? Will such and other acts of racism ever dissipate from our beloved land? For now, these questions remain unanswered, and only time shall tell if South Africans will ever succeed in transcending the deplorable web of racism.

(Featured Image Credit: allAfrica)

Mohammed Arai

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