When you look at Zimbabwe through racial spectacles, then you will see white farmers who are selfishly refusing to let go of their land and who are destabilizing the country as puppets of the West.

If you remove the racial spectacles, you see huge differences between the elections in Botswana and Zimbabwe. Then you see in Zimbabwe an autocratic leader that refuses to let go of his power. You see a country where only seven of the 55 parliamentary opposition members have not been imprisoned for trifling matters – and where all opposition newspapers are closed down. You also realize that less than 1% of white farmers can not destabilize the country.

If you look at HIV/aids with racial spectacles, it is a disease “developed by the West” to “exterminate black people” as the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Wangari Maathi said.

When you remove the racial spectacles, you see the biggest human crisis since the Black Death in Europe, which will affect each of us in some way.

President Mbeki asks in parliament that racism in South-Africa must be debated. Can we have a balanced debate on racism, in the current times?

  • In 1996 the political keywords were “agreement” and “settlement” between the various groups. At present we only hear of the “triumph of one group over the other”.
  • In 1996 “compromises” were sought. At present the slogan is: “The ANC has the answers and knows best”. If you do not go along, you are un-patriotic and probably racist.
  • In 1996 there was talk of the “rainbow nation”; now we only hear of “black and white”.

The result of all this? “ANC-triumph” in stead of agreement; “the-ANC-knows-best” in stead of compromises; black and white racism in stead of rainbow; polarization in stead of reconciliation.

Can we have a balanced public debate on race in South Africa in the current times? I am afraid not. Leaders must first, through their actions and comments, create a different climate – preferably a reconciliatory climate.

In a reconciliatory climate both sides can acknowledge mistakes and make concessions. In a climate of accusations groups move away from each other and harden their viewpoints. All of this inevitably leads to greater polarization. In such a climate each side automatically emphasize the more radical viewpoints. President Mbeki’s stance in Parliament that whites describe all black people as “smelly, animalistic, barbarous and rapists” is indeed such a radical viewpoint. That immediately provokes me to a counter-reaction. I then quote Jon Qwelane’s column in which all whites are stereotyped as “racist, suppressors, selfish and exploiters”. Both statements are generalizations and therefore wrong without helping South Africa in anyway.

According to President Mbeki the past “racially corrupted our minds”. If that is true then the youth should luckily be free from these prejudices.

When I listen to the ANC Youth League, they propagate nothing else but camouflaged revenge of blacks against whites.

When I read some reports and articles in our newspapers, I see the same racist reactions of certain young whites.

These young people, white and black, were only six years old when former president Mandela was released. What do they know of the past? It must be the current political climate that influences them. Some leaders’ inflammatory comments, seen with all the emotionally charged TV programmes on the injustices of the past, cultivate these views. On the side of the whites, sport quotas, politically correct selected Springbok teams and affirmative action together with irresponsible “braaivleis-conversations” cultivate similar radicals.

Is it a crisis? Only if the problems are ignored and it becomes the view of the majority of people.

In all communities there are radical opinions. Since the sixties there have been intense media efforts to combat racism in the USA. In spite of this, some of the worst racists are found in the USA. You will find them in Washington and in London. But you also find them in Soweto and in Cape Town. Ask me. I have tried to talk to such people in Washington and Soweto. But it is always a minority viewpoint. A minority viewpoint that should not unnecessarily be given status.

When is a community in trouble? A community is in trouble when these radical minority viewpoints become the viewpoint of the majority of the community. At the moment it is definitely and luckily not the case in South Africa. It is most assuredly and sadly already the situation in Israel and Palestine.

How do we prevent this? By leaders setting the example. By leaders on all sides addressing the problem and creating a different climate to the current one. Because of political realities the President and the governing party have a larger role to play in this than the opposition. Government largely determines the style and content of the public debate.

The ANC finds it comfortable to use the confrontational style of the DA as an excuse for the radicalization of their own style. It is a mistake. With a 70% majority, the ANC can, other than the DA, afford to choose sensibility above short term popularity.

If leaders remove the racial spectacle, it becomes possible and actually very easy to have a sensible debate on these issues. What an exciting future would then be possible. Wise and courageous leaders on all sides can do it. There are such leaders.