The Woyingi Blog

Race and Reconciliation in South Africa, a BBC Radio Documentary

Originally written July 5, 2008

I encourage people to check out the BBC World Service Radio Documentary Race and Reconciliation by Audrey Brown about issues of Race in South Africa, including the recent attacks on migrants in cities across the country.

The reality is that aparteid only ended 14 years ago.
Why would anyone expect the deeply racist ideology that divided people into sections: White, Coloured, Blacks to have changed over such a short time?
Look how long it took for the US to recover from the racial divisions of slavery after slavery was abolished. Over a hundred years!

Although the focus is on race, poverty is really the central issue here. When there is a scarcity of resources people will compete desperately for them and divide themselves by race, religion, and nationality in order to justify their entitlement to these scare resources. Sadly, this is human nature. Why are people surprised? I don’t get why people where so surprised this happened in South Africa, just because aparteid is over. You can’t erase the economic, social and psychological dammage aparteid has done in just 14 years!

Migrant Labour is coming to South Africa because South Africa is one of the strongest economies in Africa. South Africa also needs skilled labour because many of the Whites have left and the Blacks were barred from getting the skills needed to run their own country under aparteid. Migrants, coming from such places as Nigeria, Mozambique, and Somalia, come with skills or with some capital to set up businesses. You also have poorer migrants coming from conflict zones, particularly Zimbabwe, who are willing to be paid lower wages than Black South Africans. There is also the belief that the foreigners are involved in organized crime. These fears sound pretty similar to what whites here in North America feel about migrant labour. But because our economic situation isn’t as desperate here we don’t see this level of violence.

There also seems to be bitterness among more well to do migrant Africans who believe South Africans should be grateful to them and allow them to benefit economically from South Africa because they came from countries that took in South African exiles during aparteid or somehow fought against the Aparteid government. I have a serious problem with this concept of collective gratitude. Just like I don’t think all the citizens of a country can be guilty of what their government does because they can’t be held individually responsible for their governments wrong actions, they can’t be held individually responsible for the good their government has done either. Nor should they demand collective gratitude from other people. The division between South Africans and migrant Africans will not be resolved if well off migrant Africans consider themselves superior to Black South Africans, which from many of the blog postings and Facebook groups I’ve read after the violence against migrants started seems to be the financially well-off migrant Africans attitude to Black South Africans. Black South Africans were called ungrateful, lazy and stupid and not deserving of the economic benefits of South Africa. This situation reminds me of the attacks on Korean convenience store owners by Blacks during the LA riots.

On a positive note,the violence seems to have brought some of these more privileged migrant Africans closer to the poorer migrant Africans for the first time, as they have volunteered to help the homeless refugees.

I get the impression that many migrant South Africans don’t actually interact with Black South Africans as friends. It also appears that Brown and Coloured South Africans don’t interact with Black South Africans as friends either. Again, you can’t expect the hatreds and prejudices between these groups to change if they aren’t even interacting with each other. But how can you begin such interaction if everyone is scared for their phycial safety, is worried about losing their homes and livlihood and/or thinks they are superiour? Again, class plays a role because as much as the poor Black Africans and the poor migrant Africans are fighting each other for scare resources they also actually interact with one another, live and work together, and in some cases marry each other.

Race and Reconciliation

Fourteen years after liberation and sixty years since the beginning of what was then ‘apartheid’, this documentary series explores and uncovers the extent to which race still plays a part in everyday life for those living in South Africa.
Part One – Rainbow nation or racial tension?
In January this year, an 18 year old white farm boy, Johan Nel, walked into the black settlement of Skierlik in the North West Province and shot dead four people, a mother and the baby on her back, a 10-year-old boy and a man.

Audrey Brown meets South Africans from all walks of life to find out whether recent racial incidents have revealed cracks in what has been dubbed the miracle of ‘the rainbow nation’.

In the face confrontation and controversy, she asks difficult questions about how different South African communities view one another.

Can issues of race and reconciliation comfortably sit side-by-side?
What do South Africans really think about one another?
How do you get people to engage on the issue?
And can racism ever be eradicated there?

A generation after Nelson Mandela walked free, race now seems as dominant an issue today as it was in the darkest years of apartheid.

In the first part of this series, Audrey Brown travels to Skierlik to explore how racial tensions are quietly erupting – and how the ripples are being felt around the country.

At one point, one of the White South Africans Audrey is speaking to says that he can’t marry a Black woman because he’s a Christian and it’s against his religion to mix races. What kind of Christianity is he talking about?

I was deeply moved by the story of the young White woman who was raped by Black South Africans who invaded her house but refused to blame their crime on their race. I was also happy to hear that her family had been visited by a Black South African Church group. Bringing people together in this way after crimes of this nature are committed is so crucial if there is going to be real reconciliation.

Part Two – The Politics of Race

BEE or Black Economic Empowerment has formed one of the central planks of government policy for the last 14 years.

It has created a new generation of determined, young black people – known as ‘black diamonds’.

But what about other South Africans?

Where do they fit in?

Audrey Brown travels to the Western Cape to explore how privilege and access to resources is increasingly being seen as an issue of colour.

She speaks to people from the so-called Coloured community to find out how black and brown populations feel about one another.

Is there real hatred, or is race simply being used as a political tool?

In the new South Africa, it’s not Whites versus Blacks, it’s Coloured people and Brown people versus Blacks. Just Great.

Part Three – New waves
Since 1994, South Africa has been seen as a place of hope and opportunity.

And the latest wave of people are from Nigeria, Senegal, Zimbabwe and everywhere in between.

But how has this new wave of immigrants altered the ‘rainbow’ and how are attitudes and the recent attacks by South Africans on foreigners, painting a disturbing picture of a new type of conflict, based on race, colour and nationality?

Audrey Brown travels to Atteridgeville, a township outside the capital, Pretoria, to explore what really lies behind the recent troubles.

During an interview, a Black South African says that he believes that the attacks by Black South Africans on Black African migrants is a result of internalized Black self-hatred. He says it must be this because attacks haven’t happened on White and Asian migrants. Although, I think he has a point, the reality is that attacks aren’t happening on White and Asian migrants because White and Asian migrants don’t live near or among Black people. They are safe in gated communities. But many poorer Black African migrants actually live and work among Black South Africans, making them more accessible targets of violence.

The producer of this documentary is Audrey Brown. Audrey Brown is herself a Black South African. She was born in Klipstown, near Soweto.

Audrey Brown

Audrey Brown

Who is Audrey Brown?

Here are excerpts from a personal interview:

I knew I wanted to be a journalist from the age of about seven and I’ve been dipping in and out of it ever since university, as I’ve tried to find different ways to find out about the people of the world.

My first job in radio was here at the BBC between 1992 and 1994. I fell in love immediately and irretrievably.

But then I followed other paths first – television, writing, teaching and curating, before coming back to radio, my first love. I rejoined the BBC in January 2005.

While in South Africa, I co-presented a morning radio show. One morning the sports presenter said something that was only vaguely funny, but I suddenly got an attack of the giggles and I couldn’t stop.

I infected the rest of the team and, as I found out later, a substantial part of the audience as well. After struggling unsuccessfully for several minutes to contain my laughter I had to leave the studio.

I have too many broadcasting heroes to name, but have to mention the late great Chris Bickerton. He is the only person I knew who sounded like the same person on and off air.

Also, Tim Modise, a broadcaster in South Africa, for his natural charm and courtliness.

Your favourite African novel?

The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born by Ayi Kwei Armah …and almost everything written by Bessie Head.

What makes you angry?

Stupidity, spite, cruelty, selfrighteousness and smugness.

Why do you love Africa?

Because it is often better than anything one can imagine.

What depresses you about Africa?

That it can be worse than anything you’ve ever seen.