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May 25, 2010, at 5:06 am — Blogs / / /

Measuring Tolerance: South Africa and Racism

It may seem like South Africa is still rather racist with its ongoing race classifications; BEE and Affirmative Action strategies still being implemented 16 years after the demise of Apartheid; and recent affairs. Last year, a white South African was granted refugee status in Canada due to various human right violations; last month, the death of Eugene Terreblanche evoked racial tension; and the ongoing racist outbursts from ANC youth league leader Julius Malema has only aggravated the situation.

However, South Africans are not all racist; in fact there exists a visible tolerance of different racial groups, cultures and customs. For example, one can always measure tolerance with the use of humour. South African stand up comedians are notorious for their political and racial opinions and continue to gather crowds. Various advertisements also use racial stereotypes to create humour. For example, the current Nandos advertisements use zulu customs to create humour, such as polygamy  (this advert is enhanced by South African president, Jacob Zuma’s, multiple wives) and bare-breasted women . Other world cup advertisements (including this hilariously insane Wimpy advert) and songs portray a national unity that surpasses racial distinctions. Moreover, South Africans love them. The current craze is music artists such as Jack ParrowDie Antwoord, Leon Schuster and JR who combine South African languages and cultures into a new form of South African.

One may argue that this is all merely a performance of unity and tolerance rather than true acceptance. South Africa may be a crime ridden country however, it is not racist. There may exist individual racists who reside in South Africa, no different from racists who reside anywhere else in the world; however, as a whole, South Africa is not racist.

During my graduation ceremony last month, I witnessed a display tolerance. Six years ago, when I attended my sister’s graduation, the ceremony imposed rules of silence, asking the audience to applaud only at the end. During my graduation, the audience ululated freely in their own sounds of culture. A gogo (zulu for grandmother) stood in the center of the aisle reciting what seemed like a form of praise poetry as her son/relation received his doctrate and the entire ceremony paused to listen to her, with the various ‘chairpeople’ smiling and even applauding her. Even the dress code represented a gathering of different cultures with some Indians dressed in indian attire (sari’s and so forth), some Africans wearing Sunday hats. ‘black diamonds’ in the latest fashion, the ‘philosophers’ in more casual attire…

In tolerance there exists a willingness to learn, respect and acknowledge the customs, cultures and religious beliefs of other; and in South Africa there exists tolerance.

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1 comment to Measuring Tolerance: South Africa and Racism

  • Jeremy Olsen

    What a fascinating glimpse inside another country’s civil rights struggles. In some ways it reminds me of America’s past, in some ways of our present. And some of it seems unique to this moment in your country right now. I love hearing about it and I’m glad for your optimistic outlook, as I grew up when apartheid was still the horrible, ugly reality just as my grandparents grew up when racial segregation in our South was still the rule.

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