Are we lost in the race maze?
Race is ironically at the top of the agenda for People Against Race Classification.
Glen Snyman says he believes in a post-racial South Africa. That’s why the Oudtshoorn high school teacher has taken on a second job as founder of People Against Race Classification (Parc).
Snyman believes race classification died in 1991 with the apartheid-era Population Registration Act.
The act became law in 1950 and required all births in South Africa to be classified by race.
“Race classification creates division, stereotyping and hatred among people,” he says.
“We are supposed to be living in the new and democratic South Africa, and do not need to be identified as we were during the apartheid era.”
But if one looks a little deeper, it is clear that even in trying to be nonracial, race is at the top of the agenda when it comes to the work Snyman and his Parc colleagues are doing.
Consider the organisation’s most recent campaign, titled Black African.
It was launched in July last year and called on coloured, white, Indian and Asian South Africans to tick “black African” on any government form, including Census forms.
He said: “It was aimed at confusing the government recruitment agencies when short-listing candidates and distorting the Census data.”
Section 16 of the 1999 Statistics Act states that any person who knowingly provides a false or misleading answer on a Census form could be prosecuted and, if convicted, would be liable for a fine of up to R10?000 or six months’ imprisonment, or both.
That doesn’t bother Snyman.
But why would an activist who claims to have South Africans’ best interests at heart deliberately distort data that would help the government understand where and how its citizens live?
“The current government only cares about black people,” Snyman replies.
“By ticking the ‘black African’ box we would make the statistics useless and inaccurate, and the government would not know who to benefit or discriminate against.”
He finds some government programmes, like affirmative action, particularly galling.
“Affirmative action benefits black people even though it is supposed to benefit all previously disadvantaged people, including coloureds and Indians.
“The little that’s left is given to foreign nationals and coloureds are forgotten,” he says.
He is also critical of race-based admission policies, like the one currently employed by the University of Cape Town.
The policy, which is currently being re-examined by a university-appointed commission, irks Snyman because different qualifying marks are expected in faculties like engineering and medicine from candidates in different race groups.
“This doesn’t help anybody but lowers the quality of black and coloured doctors produced by the university.
“It also creates the impression that these races are not clever enough to obtain 80% like their peers,” he says.
The University of Cape Town informed City Press that the commission would release its findings in the next few weeks.
So will Snyman’s Parc succeed in getting rid of racial classification?
Many South Africans believe that race is an inescapable adjective and marker in a nation like ours.
Dr Pieter Mulder, the leader of Freedom Front Plus and deputy minister for agriculture, forestry and fisheries, is one of them.
Speaking at the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation in Johannesburg earlier this month, Mulder said: “South Africa is not an ‘either or’ country – meaning either a South African or an Afrikaner or a Christian.
“It is an ‘and-and country’. A South African and an Afrikaner, and a Christian.
“I want to be myself in Africa. Is that too much to ask? If there is a place in the north of Africa for Arabs, with their religion and different culture, then there should also be a place for me in the south, even though black intolerants call me a Euro-African.”
Cosmo Matengaifa, Durban
I don’t see problems with racial classification.
That is what I am and that’s what you are. Nothing will change that.
Classification on its own is not racism.
Racism is in people’s hearts and not on forms.
It is people’s attitudes that need to change, not forms.
I don’t see why we are so worried about this because by the mere fact that when I see someone, immediately my mind involuntarily does its own classification.
But I don’t condone racism.
I think classification may actually bring out vital statistics necessary for the development of all races.
It could be more resources need to be channeled towards a certain racial group in the area of science education, for example, which then enables that group to contribute more fully to the economy.
For other races, maybe they need to improve their proficiency in other languages and cultures.
Yes, racism is bad. It is evil.
The problem comes when members of one race group consider themselves superior to others.
To me, every person is human and different.
They do not necessarily behave in a certain way because of their race.
We need to learn to celebrate our differences because I feel if we were all the same, life would be boring.
Great individuals are those able to look beyond skin pigmentation, stereotypes, prejudices and social beliefs.
Humanity should condemn all forms of racism, tribalism, chauvinism and intolerance. Some people practise these just because the scales are in their favour. But classification with good intentions is not a problem. – Sphumelele Mngoma
Willie Venter, Nelspruit
I think that racial classification on application forms is probably done for demographic studies more than making a decision on whether companies will employ someone or not.
But you never really know because companies – obviously have to make decisions based on applications and that sort of a thing.
I would say that if I come across a form that asks ‘What is your race?’, I would state that I am white.
It doesn’t really matter to me, to be honest with you.
I couldn’t be bothered by it. I haven’t ever been told that we can’t appoint you in a position, or we can’t do – something for you or whatever because of your race or skin colour. I haven’t directly experienced that attitude in my life.
I do not attach much importance to race because if you are black and we get along, or if you are white and we get along, it is the same thing to me.
The very, very first thing is that I’m Willie.
That’s who I am and I’m a South African 100% through and through. The fact that I happen to be white or Afrikaner is just a subclassification of what I am.
I am South African first. If people say to me, ‘What are you?’, I say I’m a South African who happens to be white. – Sizwe Sama Yende
Gail Sookha, Durban
I always identify myself by my name and title first because I feel that in this day and age we don’t need to still be classifying people by their colour.
The minute you classify, you are bound to be biased.
Whenever I see that race-classification box, I don’t even fill it in.
It is totally unfair.
It robs people of the same opportunities and it is disgusting.
Even places such as universities, where you expect transformation and expect there to be no division, it is the same story.
We always get told it is for statistical purposes and therefore compulsory.
But I feel it is just another way of
tricking you into revealing your race.
We should not be forced into it.
I am proudly South African and, in my opinion, it should be left at that.
What was the whole point of democracy if we still need racial classification?
As things stand in South Africa, we are only classified into four race categories: black, coloured, Indian and white.
What happens to the other groups such as the Chinese, Arabs, Japanese and others?
We are many years into this new democracy and I think if we are serious about transformation, we all need to be treated as equals.
We as South Africans want for very little when it comes to wealth in terms of natural resources and manpower.
But until we do away with the remnants of apartheid, such as racial classification, we will not be able to build this beautiful country into one of the most powerful in the world. – Sphumelele Mngoma
Eugen White, Bloemfontein
The raceissue is a very sensitiveone for Eugene, which he said he wanted to make very clear from the start.
The ideal, he said, would be to drop the race question – entirely from forms in South Africa.
“But I know that it is important in some instances. What really upsets me is that there is no classification that suits me among the options.”
Eugene says he is a Griqua and refuses to choose the available options, which usually are black, white, coloured or – Indian. He said in some instances there is a box for – “others”.
“I usually tick the box for ‘others’ and then indicate in the space provided for an explanation that I am Griqua. I think it is an insult that there is no box called Khoisan,” said Eugene.
The racial classification question is not the only thing that Eugene would like to change. Because race is such an issue, he said it was quite difficult with a surname like his.
“I am thinking of changing my surname to !Nri, that is the Griqua translation for White.”
He said the issue of racial classification was thorny for the Khoisan community – during the last Census.
“Nobody wants to be known or seen as ‘other’ and – people were objecting to it,” he said.
Eugene explained that the Khoisan had set up a meeting with Statistics SA to make their objections known. – Cathy Dlodlo