What exactly does non-racialism mean in 2020

The shoes of Helen Zille, the leader of the political party the Democratic Alliance can be seen decorated with the colours and the logo of her party as she addresses a rally in Soweto, Johannesburg. The Democratic Alliance is the second most supported political party in South Africa and along with all other parties have been campaigning throughout the country ahead of the elections scheduled for 7 May 2014. Picture: IHSAAN HAFFEJEE (12.04.2014)

During the Democratic Alliance’s September policy conference, the party adopted an economic redress policy that targets disadvantage, rather than race. They said this was in “line with a commitment to non-racialism”. The Daily Vox team spoke to people about the policy and what non-racialism means to them.

Gwen Ngwenya, Head of Policy: Democratic Alliance 

I suppose my view is encapsulated in the non racialism clause in the DA’s values and principles. This is a document I authored and my views are encapsulated by the clause. Non-racialism is the rejection of race as a way to categorise and treat people, particularly in legislation. While there is a scientific consensus that “race” itself does not exist – racialism and race do exist and have a profound and damaging impact on the lives of individuals and society. They are abhorrent and detestable. A great deal of harm was caused and continues to be caused on the basis of false beliefs in racial difference. Non-racialism is therefore a commitment, not just to reject racialism and racism, but to fight for the deconstruction of race, and the reconstruction of a non-racial future. The assumption that one’s “race” represents people who think, feel, or have the same experience of shared events, based on their physical appearance, is false. 

Wandile Kasibe, Economic Freedom Fighters Western Cape spokesperson

The Democratic Alliance is a racist organisation that protects the interests of whites at the expense of the Black majority”. That is all this new policy will keep doing. Non-racialism is unrealistic. 

Valentino Stander, a long serving Cape Flats community activist

The Democratic Alliance’s new policy of non-racialism is hypocritical.The policy by the DA is false and a lie. They are contradicting themselves in so many ways. They are against employment equality and BEE, and many other policies where only Black people benefit. So for them to say they don’t see colour they oppose transformation. They don’t see the advancement of Black people, and of those who suffered under Apartheid and colonialism. Therefore they don’t have anything else to say but fall back on saying they don’t see colour. In adopting this policy the status quo will remain, where you find the so-called Coloured community and Black people on the Cape Flats living in squalor in a DA-run province. We cannot take this new policy from the DA seriously. My concern is for how long this kind of nonsense can be uttered from a privileged view. We need to call this policy out and the DA for their hypocrisy for even suggesting this. So many dispossessions and displacements happened under their nose, especially in the Western Cape that affect Black people. So for them to adopt a policy of non-racialism is hypocrisy at its finest, and they remain inconsistent. Non-racialism cannot exist in South Africa.

Busiswe Nkosi, anti-racism programme manager at the Kathrada Foundation

I think for us racism is the discrimination against someone based on the colour of the skin. Non-racialism would be that you don’t tolerate any form of racism. You are non-racial – not that you don’t see colour. It’s not about colour-blindness. It’s more about acknowledging that people are different but embracing that diversity. Non-racialism comes in to say that you recognise diversity, celebrate diversity and you are against racism. Celebrating the rainbow nation means you are against any form of racial discrimination. You also work in the quest of eradicating racism. The foundation works towards the values that (Ahmed) Kathrada himself embodied and one of those values was a non-racial and democratic South Africa. We are trying to instil the values of Kathrada – one of them being non-racialism. It’s not enough to be anti-racist but you have to actively working towards ending racism. You should be speaking against any forms of these acts that you come across. 

Ralph Matekga, political analyst 

The version of non-racialism that the DA intends to propagate is effectively racial bias. You have to remember that our society is defined a lot by race and gender when it comes to access to opportunities. That on its own means you have to be sensitive to the question of race because it’s a factor when it comes to the distribution of resources. When you say you are not taking race into consideration, then your version of non-racialism actually extends the status quo and the status quo needs to be corrected. When they are saying non-racialism, it actually sounds like they are not going to get involved with any matters related to race. It could mean you are inadvertently allowing discrimination to happen because you say you are not going to look into the question of race. Actually non-racialism in South Africa is impossible. Non-racialism in South Africa can start by acknowledging race on the distribution of opportunities on the social strata in the country. When you acknowledge you can try to correct it so that race no longer becomes a factor. If you leave it, you cannot tell us you are non-racial. 

Faatimah Laher, law student, and former Wits University SRC

The ideology of non-racialism as promoted in section 1b of our constitution, is not the idea that South Africa is a society absent of racism but rather one that is working actively to eliminate all forms of racism. This is as we continue to break down the systematic injustices constructed by the apartheid state as well as those perpetuated by the current one.

Zane Dangor, Special Adviser to the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation and a lifelong anti-racism advocate

The DA wants to use the policy of non-racialism to not affect any change. It is similar to the equality of opportunity beliefs. To say we are all in the same playing field. The ANC does not denounce racism, in spite of what I call the four nation theory; white, Coloured, Indian and Black African. There is no denying of systemic racism. The DA is trying to move away completely from any notion that we had Apartheid, as this will mean you would have to have redress. They have been very anti-critical race theory that talks about the intersections of race, gender and geography. Neville Alexander criticised BEE by saying we must break away from “racial habitus” as he termed it. However, he also said we have to approach redress differently. Systemic racism had to be undone. You can’t declare there is no racism and everybody is equal. There is the economic superstructure to consider too. The DA is not doing that. There is no Black Consciousness perspective. Black Consciousness also spoke about anti-racism. Racial capitalism determined by various levels of privilege and who benefited from it. The old Black Consciousness said race is a political construct and you needed to shift power dynamics to get to anti-racism. The DA is attempting to hide white supremacy and maintain privilege, under this banner of non-racialism. Non-racialism is shrouded in the nationalist argument.  

The voxes have been edited for clarity and brevity. 

Reporting by Ling Shepherd and Fatima Moosa

Featured image via IHSAAN HAFFEJEE