Despite many advances, South Africa remains plagued by persistent injustices 22 years after the commencement of our constitution. As a contribution to the public discourse in this regard, Stellenbosch University (SU) partnered with Franklin Adams from Stellenbosch Municipality to host a discussion on racism and human rights on Thursday March 22.
Members of the SU student body as well as the broader public attended the discussion, which was facilitated by Monica du Toit from SU’s transformation office. Ms Du Toit started off by contextualising the atrocities of Sharpeville, acknowledging that it stirred painful memories, while also emphasising the need to prioritise the conversation on racism.
The panellists for the event were Kayamandi community leader and activist, Paul Kambule, SU students’ representative council chair, Lwando Nkamisa, and Annika Rudman, a professor at the department of public law specialising in international human rights law. The blend of academia, community and student voices on the panel was an accurate reflection of the diverse audience.
Professor Rudman noted that although the constitution envisaged a non-racial society, this was an end goal. “We need to engage on racism, not only at an interpersonal level, but also as a systemic problem in our community, our town, our university and our country.” Mr Nkamisa, in turn, linked racism to fear of the unknown, stating that “policy and distinction ensure that a certain group has access” to the detriment of another. Finally, Mr Kambule struck a chord with the audience in taking a more personal approach: “How many white people were raised by a black person because your parents only came home at 5pm? How many were fed by a black woman? This means there are white adults who have turned their back on black people to be racist.”
Leanardine de Villiers, a fourth-year BCom student, was pleased with the content of the discussion. “What stood out for me was the part about psychology. Because freedom starts from within, how you see yourself.” The diversity of the audience impressed Thandeka Mwakipesile, a second-year student at SU. “I thought it was very good for people from all backgrounds to come together and talk about an important issue such as race. And to get different people’s takes on racism in general and in a South African context was very interesting, and I think there should be more conversations like this.”
The conversation on racism and human rights formed part of the week against racism (WAR) campaign, which focused on farm murders and farmworker abuse, as well as building mutual respect in rural communities.