Flames of racism need dousing

23 October 2011 - 04:23 By Sunday Times Editorial

Sunday Times Editorial: THERE are fresh signs that the nonracial tapestry of South Africa is in danger of being unravelled by careless zealots who consider only their own short-term gain.

Judge Isaac Madondo says Indians are not yet ready to occupy senior judicial positions
Judge Isaac Madondo says Indians are not yet ready to occupy senior judicial positions

Julius Malema's use, on a public platform, of an offensive word to describe Indians is but one of many such assaults on South Africa's foundation values.

It does not help that Malema apologised a day later for the remark. The damage had been done.

More damaging was the statement by Judge Isaac Madondo at the hearing for the appointment of a new judge president in KwaZulu-Natal.

Asked if it was time to appoint an Indian judge to the position, Madondo replied: "I don't think so ... we still have things to address, imbalances, all kinds of things which need more insight, which a person who is not African cannot be privy to." He went on to say: "We were [both] oppressed, but not in the same way."

The fact that the candidate under scrutiny, Judge Chiman Patel, might be the best person for the job appears to have eluded Judge Madondo and calls into question his judgment.

The official opposition, the DA, is also facing a race issue. The battle between Lindiwe Mazibuko and Athol Trollip for the powerful position of parliamentary leader threatens to split the party along racial lines, despite the best efforts of some senior leaders to centre the focus on the suitability of the candidates.

And while South Africa struggles with these race issues, there is a fresh rumbling of xenophobia on the ground in certain communities.

In Alexandra outside Johannesburg, community "leaders" have been issuing eviction notices to people they believe are foreigners. They want them out of government housing because, they say, the locals are going without.

On the East Rand, there is growing agitation against foreigners who own small businesses. They are accused of depriving locals of income opportunities.

It should be remembered that the horrific events of May 2008 unfolded too quickly for authorities to act effectively before days of carnage had passed. The prevarication of the leadership added to the slow response.

The attacks were not the doing of a small number of instigators. Then, as now, there was genuine grassroots anger at foreigners that had been spawned by competition for scarce resources.

Whatever criticisms there may be of President Jacob Zuma, he carries the flag of nonracialism with pride.

He should now provide leadership to nip the rising tide of ethnic tensions in the bud.

A failure to do so will result in a continued rise in tension and the consequences will be dire for those on the receiving end of racism and xenophobia.

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