Racism in SA alive and kicking

24 February 2014 - 02:48 By SIPHO MASOMBUKA
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Racial intolerance remains South Africa's most stubborn headache - with Mpumalanga and the Free State the worst offenders.

An alleged racist attack at the University of the Free State last week, in which two white students allegedly ran over a black student and then beat him up, has again put the scourge into the spotlight.

The SA Human Rights Commission is investigating.

According to the commission allegations of racism make up 80% of the 10000 human rights complaints it receives annually on average.

At 74%, Mpumalanga had the highest number of racism complaints in the third quarter of the 2013-2014 financial year. The Free State generated 69% of racism complaints, followed by North West at 55%.

KwaZulu-Natal was the source of 55% of the complaints, Northern Cape 44%, Limpopo 43% and Western Cape 29%. The commission did not provide data for Gauteng .

Commission spokesman Isaac Mangena said: "The complaints of racism we receive vary, such as black people being called k*****s or baboons, or other racist remarks on social media."

With notorious complaints such as the recent attack on UFS student Dumane Gwebu, offers of exclusively "non-affirmative" student accommodation and teachers cleaning phones that had been handled by blacks, the Free State dominates the headlines with racism allegations.

Gwebu's alleged assailants have been suspended from the university and are facing charges of attempted murder.

Mangena said that, of 233 racism cases the commission had dealt with between April 2013 and January 2014, 44 were in the Free State.

Last year the commission's chairman, Lawrence Mushwana, heard of the racism ordeal at the hands of a white farmer of Samson Sibanda, of Malelane, Mpumalanga.

Mangena said Sibanda was called derogatory names and when he tried to complain to the police he was told that he stood no chance of having the case prosecuted because the farmer was a well-known businessman.

He said that though Sibanda eventually won the case after the commission took the matter to the Equality Court, he "lost his job, his wife and his dignity".

Mangena said not all cases involved racism perpetrated by whites on blacks; cases of black-on-white racism made up a small fraction.

Last year the commission mediated in the case of a "racist" Facebook remark by Zama Khumalo, 24, who invited friends to a braai to celebrate the deaths of 41 white children killed in a school bus accident at the Westdene dam in 1985. Khumalo later apologised for the remark.

Political analyst Steven Friedman said the constant flare-up of racism in the Free State was a result of a conservative white community feeling that it was threatened by black people, who had once served them in their homes, playing a greater role in situations they deemed were the prerogative of whites.

"Over the past few years black people have become more confident, assertive and more inclined to express themselves, and that makes white conservatives very jumpy," he said.

Friedman said the law had to be applied and anti-racism programmes adopted.

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