21/03/2016: When transformation is a human right
The year 1948, when DF Malan came into power - overtly spurning any respect for human rights – was ironically the same year, on December 10, that the United Nations proclaimed human rights as sacrosanct.
The tension between these two simultaneous moments in history goes some way to explaining why on March 21 in South Africa we find ourselves observing Human Rights Day with a highly emotional debate framed by matters of race, spatial segregation, social and economic exclusion. Like the cause that resulted in the brutal Sharpeville killings of 1960, today’s transformation debate is more than just about racial discrimination.
Race, in the South Africa of 2016, sits uncomfortably – and sometimes violently - at the intersection of identity and economics. This was no less the case in 2001 when the world met in Durban under the United Nations banner declaring that “genuine equality of opportunity for all, in all spheres, including that for development, is fundamental for the eradication of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance…”.
But in the current environment of heightened racial tensions, volatile questions of identity clash with the wider politics. This is as too few recognise out loud that we are discussing race, but in fact talking about questions of various apartheid legacy forms of exclusion to do with the political economy, access and empowerment.
Let us start by insisting that there is an important distinction between a narrow anti-white or anti-black chauvinism, which some might call racism, and the deeply structural, racialised results of a set of social and economic conditions. These are substantially the long shadow of deliberate apartheid social engineering. This spans generations across the colonial and apartheid eras – a shadow we only began to substantively confront at the dawn of liberationin 1994. It is indeed the latter that is now commonly understood as the racism which is the subject of popular rage.
I concur with the brilliant young thought leader Lovelyn Nwadeyi, who spoke to our present complexity – and its historical roots – with such eloquence before the convocation of the University of Stellenbosch earlier this year. “People are not interested in having their anger policed or curated…,” Lovelyn said as she provocatively rendered her offering in fluent English and Afrikaans. This approach, very much warranted in the current tense racial atmosphere in South Africa, was a far-from-silent rebuke of language as a tool of exclusion.
Lovelyn, and a full cast of more thoughtful commentators on the issue of race all eventually arrive at the point where race as a social construct and a marker of social and economic exclusion intersect. The conversation turns – inevitably and appropriately – to the living conditions of black Africans, and other continuously systematically victimised groups.
It is at this point that we – the citizens - must seize the momentum and recognise that – when we call for the fall of racism in the South Africa of 2016 - we are seeking a theory and practice of meaningful social change for those who have the odds stacked against them.
To change the appalling legacies of apartheid systems that created this reality, you and I – the government, the private sector and civil movements - must support and drive systematic change. This is already the basis of the spatial, social and economic transformation agenda that the City of Johannesburg is leading.
The shadow cast by the colonial era, deepened by the former Group Areas Act, the Native Laws Amendment Act, and the Bantu Education Act – has left our city, let alone our country,with major deficits in economic development. This is particularly the case in business ownership amongst the people of colour – which demands a radical developmental approach to achieve socio-economic transformation in our lifetime.
The answer is not to dispossess one elite and enrich another, but to collaborate to radically transform the social and economic landscape of the city. The City of Johannesburg’s co-production programme, Jozi@Work, deliberately partners with community-based entities to deliver municipal services. The programme stands as an example to the private sector of how real, bottom-of-the-pyramid enterprise development can work in a city like Johannesburg.
Indeed, we are using Jozi@Work, which has already empowered more than 1 100 community-based entities, as a template to establish more micro-enterprise and micro-franchise opportunities for young people through the Vulindlel’eJozi programme – a partnership with both civil and corporate organisations in the city.
Another element of the Vulindlel’eJozi programme are the Massive Open Online Varsity (MOOV) centres in public libraries across Johannesburg, which are designed to break down barriers to opportunities by creating access to free smart education.
This is certainly a 21st century learning tool that is set to help our people escape the long shadow of the Bantu Education Act, and the wider deficits of a half century of race-based social engineering.
The deepest part of apartheid’s long shadow has always been the very spatial design of our cities - the worst of which was wrought by the Group Areas Act and the Native Laws Amendment Act. For six decades, we have done Verwoerd’s bidding, warehousing the pooron cheap land at the edges of the city - far from existing economies they can attach to.
This is a failed policy that the City of Johannesburg has since learned and deliberately moved away from with the Corridors of Freedom. The spatial redesign programme seeks to re-stitch the city together and bring people closer to economic opportunities.
The city is not seeking social change in order to build a system of racial preference. It is quite the opposite. We must, in so doing, confront a past that choked the development of our society; we must dismantle the very machinery that perpetuates basic human rights violations.
The practical question of how do we do so is being actively explored as we lead the country’s fast-forward city towards a new, truly post-apartheid reality. On that note, I urge all those who embrace the United Nations proclamation – rather than the worst of 1948 - to join us.
Cllr. Mpho Parks Tau
City of Johannesburg