Non-racist society only possible if people work together and change their mindsets

“The word racism does not exist in my vocabulary. For me, racism died in 1994. Today it is no longer the colour of your skin that separates us, but rather our differences in cultures.”

These powerful and insightful words were spoken by Moegammat Ali Waghid (15),  one of the learners attending the panel discussion, jointly hosted by the Faculty of Education and the Alumni Relations Office at Stellenbosch University, held at South Peninsula High in Diepriver recently.

The panel listening to questions from the audience.

The panel discussion, which tackled the question whether non-racialism was achievable in South African schools, was an initiative to bring the intellectual knowledge and philosophy of education to the real practice. Ms Bev Witten, Director: Alumni Relations said the aim of the event was for the University, doing research and gathering knowledge, to locate its intellectual capital right at the centre of a community where the application takes place through practice. “The hosting of the event at the school was in part to give educators a voice where they can interact with academics, but also to showcase the career trajectory of our alumni and the impact they have on education and society at large.”

Part of the large audience who braved a cold and wet Cape winters' evening to attend the event.

Headed by Prof Yusef Waghid, Dean of the Faculty, the panel was comprised of Dr Neville Alexander, Director of the Project for the Study of Alternative Education in South Africa (PRAESA) and Extraordinary Professor in the Department of Afrikaans and Dutch at SU; Dr Trunette Joseph from the Provincial Government and a Matie alumnus; Mr Makhosandile Ndzuzo, Director: Institutional Management and Governance Planning in the WCED; Mr Roy Hellenberg, Head of History at Rondebosch Boys’ High School and Mr Brain Isaacs, Principal at South Peninsula and a PhD-candidate at SU.

All the panellists were in agreement that the notion of non-racialism is achievable in schools; they made it clear that it would take the commitment of all involved to make this possible.

Dr Alexander said a school reflects what is happening in a society. “Is it very important that there is a commitment to get beyond race and racism. Schools have a central role to play in the realisation of non-racialism. If we fail at that level with our youth our future is a very bleak one.”

Mr Hellenberg told how his son told him to stop viewing the events of the present through the lenses of the past. He also added that South Africa will only be free if all could live together in brotherhood.

Dr Joseph said that the focus can’t just be on the eradication of racialism, but that there must also be a focus to bring about gender equality and gender justice. “We need to also focus on all the other –isms (such as racism, sexism) we are faced with daily.” She also called for clear non-racialism policies to be introduced and implemented in schools.

Prof Ronelle Carolissen (left) from the Education Faculty with two of the learners from South Peninsula High, Zimkhita Kundlwana (middle) and Lauren Manuel

Mr Ndzuzo said many South Africans are “trapped in an old language” and that we need to learn a new language in order to move forward. He also encouraged multi-lingualism and said when you learn to speak the language of another you also gain insight into their culture.

The importance of the role teachers play in making non-racialism in schools a reality was emphasised by Mr Isaacs. He continued by saying that teachers must also “debunk the myth that one race is superior over another”. He agreed with Dr Alexander who said that in order for non-racialism to be realised, a change of mind-set was needed in society.

“The role of teachers is to plant the idea of non-racialism in the minds of our pupils.”

The role of the media in how they report on issues of race was also discussed. Prof Ronelle Carolissen of SU’s Education Faculty and one of the audience members said the media in South Africa is one of the institutions we almost “inhale invisibly”. “We internalise it into our beings.” She also said that engagement with young people needed to happen at a much earlier stage than in high school in order for them to disrupt the myths that we are supposed to live with. “Racism becomes so much a part of our lives that it becomes invisible to us.”

Mr Ndzuzo also added that we needed to think and act differently if we want to achieve non-racialism. “We have a huge challenge to move beyond our pain.”