VIP Debate Club #2: Race in SA – 20 years of what?

Tshepang Tlhapane

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On a warm Tuesday evening, the second VIP Debate took place  on October 28 at the Bannister Hotel in the vibey heart of Johannesburg, Braamfontein. The turnout was so good that we had to move the session from the basement into the main room of the Bannister Hotel’s restaurant. The debate session – titled Race […]

On a warm Tuesday evening, the second VIP Debate took place  on October 28 at the Bannister Hotel in the vibey heart of Johannesburg, Braamfontein. The turnout was so good that we had to move the session from the basement into the main room of the Bannister Hotel’s restaurant.

The debate session – titled Race in SA: 20 Years Of What – was facilitated by VIP’s very own, Lee Molefi. Lee was accompanied by panelists Siphiwe Mpye and Fourie Rossouw. Mpye is a former GQ Associate Editor and a Live Magazine senior mentor. Rossouw is an Afrikaner writer and pastor who interestingly considers himself to be a “recovering racist.”


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On 27 April 1994, South Africa formed the basis of a new free society after years of oppression and discrimination. Although we celebrate 20 years of democracy today, looking at all that has happened since 1994, we can afford to ignore the fact that we are still a deeply divided and wounded nation.

The range of South Africa’s toughest issues have always been and continue to be centered around race, which was the topic of conversation for this debate. During the debate, three questions were asked, firstly: ‘Is South Africa a post racial society?”. this was followed by: “Which remarks come up the most when race is discussed in South Africa?”, and finally, “Has the government done enough to transform South Africa?”

Before turning the conversation to the panel, Lee kicked off the conversation by proclaiming that as the facilitators of the debate, the VIP Campaign holds no preconception of what race relations in South Africa should be like. Mpye opened the debate by sharing his observation of what race relations look like in South Africa, “Race relations for me even to this day has always been black people complaining and white people being oblivious.”

After this, Rossouw opened his night by deconstructing what a racist is, ”You are being a racist is if you are making yourself superior to another person who is not of the same skin color.” He followed his opening remarks by claiming that white people do not think of themselves as a race, but rather as the norm. Everything else is simply non-white or non-European, which is problematic.

He continued, saying: “Coming to Johannesburg, I discovered the burden of my skin as a baggage.” Growing up in a racist environment he recaps a lesson that was instilled in him from a very young age by his mother. Ïn South Africa you have white people and you have black people. If those two make children, they will be called basterds (a derogatory term for mixed-race).

As the conversation gained momentum it moved on to the question of why it’s important to debate race. “Does a lack of debate about race limit our ability to discuss race critically?” Siphiwe said in response,”I feel like there’s a lot of things that do not need to be debated anymore. [As a black person] I cannot reach out more than I have in the past 20 years. The next time I reach out I feel like I might do it with a fist.”

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Although there was a great turnout for the debate session, there was one worrying factor, the lack of white participation. “There are also so many issues that we cannot get to because of a lack of a diverse audience, which for me is problem.”Siphiwe says.

Rossouw soon spoke of an interesting experience he had when he took his white friends from Braamfontein over the Mandela Bridge into the CBD. “As I took my friends over the bridge I started to notice that one of them was growing anxious, until she finally spoke and said, ‘But there is nobody here,” he says.

He continued by highlighting that anyone who has been over the Mandela Bridge on a Saturday would know that its very populated, but the issue here was that by ‘people’ his friend meant that there were no ‘white people’. Underscoring how white people are raised to recognise only their kind as people.

Racism is something that we often encounter in our day to day experiences and casual conversations as we interact with one another. There are a lot of phrases in South Africa about race that have become unique to our country. Phrases like “Angry blacks”, “Kleva blacks”, “not all whites” etc.

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Lee then challenged the audience members to pick one of the above mentioned phrases and to share their thoughts and experiences of the phrase.

“White privilege stands in the way of development. I just think that white people need to come out and admit it that they benefited from white privilege and apartheid,” one member of the audience said.

The debate then concluded with  the question: has the government done enough? As you would imagine, not many people in the audience felt that the government is doing enough. One member in the audience who goes to the University of the Witwatersrand came to the defense of government, arguing that we as a nation only choose to look at the things that government has not done. He made an example of how over the years there has been a change in demographics in terms of the number of graduates from Wits. “Go to the university [Wits] and you will see that each year there are more and more black youth graduating than we have seen in the past,”he explained.

Time quickly flew by and some members of the audience still had their hands up by the time Lee had to close the conversation due to time constraints. The debate, however, continues on #LiveVIPZA.

The next debate club meeting is on 25 November 2014. Be there. You won’t regret it.

The #2014Elections has set an exciting and vibrant context for the future of South Africa politics to unfold upon. What happens now that you’ve voted? How do we gauge whether we’re “moving the country forward”, whether we’re “bringing change” or “economic freedom in our lifetime”? Stick with #LiveVIPZA and we’ll give you analysis, debates, comments, polls and all YOU need to understand, enjoy and interact with SA politics.