Friday, June 05, 2009

racism, classism & tribalism

The following is a letter I wrote to the Pretoria News (published 5 June 2009) in response to an article titled "It is the church's duty to preach racial harmony" by Rich Mkhondo (published on 1 June 2009) in the Comment section. The Pretoria News titled my response "Roots of racism lie in SA's colonial history":

I read with interest Rich Mkhondo's opinion (Comment 1 June 2009) on the church's duty to preach racial harmony. There can be no doubt that racism remains a key issue in our society: its roots lie in our colonial history, and can be traced back to attitudes in Europe well before van Reebeck ever set foot in the Cape. It is also true that the church is often, sadly, no more than a microcosm of wider society. However, as Mkhondo points out, the church has both the responsibility and the resources to engender new attitudes and more whole relationships.

I am aware that I write as a so-called "White" South African, and so struggle to fully comprehend the level of pain inflicted on so many fellow South Africans during the apartheid era. As part of my training as an Anglican Priest I was immersed in the township life of GaRankuwa in the mid 1980's, and was substantially conscientised to the realities of southern Africa and the devastating impact of racial discrimination as experienced by those who suffered under it. I realised, too, how I - as an oppressor by default of my heritage - was damaged as a person.

In our new democratic dispensation the word "racism" tends to be used to cover a broad perspective of negative and hurtful attitudes. For many so-called "Whites" racism is very specifically aligned to apartheid, and when the declaration is made "I am not a racist" it is often perceived by fellow South Africans to be a somewhat hypocritical statement, when in reality it is a heartfelt cry that rejects apartheid and embraces the new South Africa. What many of us so-called "Whites" struggle with is often classist attitudes - that during apartheid strongly underlay racial ones - and it is often (agreed, not always!) this classism that fellow South Africans experience as racism in today's society.

As the Anglican Church in Pretoria we have raised the issue of racism, together with classism and tribalism, as ones that must be addressed in all our communities. Key to the process is building relationships, creating awareness of different cultural perspectives, and creating a broader and more inclusive ownership of church life and worship.

MARK R D LONG, Garsfontein

1 comment:

Tom Smith said...

This is a very thoughtful response and I find your suggestion of relationships very helpful.