Non-Racialism: Do you have to look up close to see the African in me?

This question from a poem by Numsa Wits Central West member, Jackie Williams, provided the spark to provoke debate in Numsa’s first non-racialism conference held in July this year. Over many days of speeches and discussions, delegates had a chance to tackle the “dark cloud” of racism and resolve on ways to counter people’s inbred suspicion, hatred and misunderstanding of each other.

The conference was inspired by Numsa’s preamble to its Constitution which states:We firmly commit ourselves to a united South Africa free of oppression and economic exploitation. Our experience has taught us that to achieve this goal we must fight and oppose discrimination in all its forms within the Union, the factories and in well as a Numsa national congress resolution adopted in 2004. This resolution committed the union to tackle the issue of racism by building a working class consciousness that united all races. It sought to deal with the problem that the Western Cape had experienced of coloured people voting “for the Nationalist Party who had subjugated them to oppression for many, many years.”Numsa Western Cape chairperson, Christine Olivier in her opening speech reminded delegates of where Numsa comes from on these issues. She cited the preamble to the Numsa constitution as well as the Freedom Charter which states that South Africa belongs to all who live in it: black and white.”Scarcity of jobs forces a competition for resources,” Cosatu regional secretary Tony Ehrenreich told the delegates. During apartheid, the Western Cape favoured coloured workers over African workers. Now that there was a scarcity of jobs, “coloured workers want to bring their kids into the workplace and resist the employment of African workers.””The only solution was to unite around common objectives,” he said.Western Cape premier, Ebrahim Rasool, echoed Ehrenreich’s remarks. He appealed to people not to be like blind people describing an elephant, they feel the trunk and it feels like the branch of a tree; instead he asked them to use their eyes and appreciate the whole thing. He congratulated the region on its initiative – “at last we can begin to have a decent debate about what is going on in the Western Cape.”Former UDF patron, Allan Boesak, urged people not to “allow new forms of division to come between us and paralyse the struggle that is still going on… We are fighting an economic system that is not just local but global.” To fight this required people to fight against individualism and instead to fight collectively. Provincial ANC deputy secretary, Max Ozinsky said the ANC looked forward to a country where the “overarching identity” would be South African – not coloured, Indian, white or African. “We mustn’t use race to climb on each others’ shoulders!”Numsa general secretary, Silumko Nondwangu, urged delegates to fight for an ANC “that fights for a radical nature of the NDR”. It was no good dealing with the race question at the “exclusion of the class question”. He encouraged conference delegates to reflect on issues of the “national question” that had raised its head over the last 10 years. He described how it had led to the barbaric slaughtering of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and closer to home Tutsis and Hutus. Unless we learnt from history, there was nothing stopping this country from going the same way. “Despots in Africa did not create themselves but it is our people that contributed to creating them. An individual becomes the organisation and then he can do with the organisation what he wants to do.”Delegates must be careful of “stereotypes” of different groups of people that are often perpetuated by discussions in our own families. Where these stereotypes are mentioned, we must tackle them. Without tackling these, unity and solidarity was not possible and without unity and solidarity, there was no chance of ensuring “equal redistribution”.

Karl Cloete gave the opening address and took delegates back in history to give theoretical understanding to the “national question”!(See also Numsa News No 4, August 2006 for a report of the conference or get a copy of the report from your nearest Numsa office.)