#Blackface, a 21st birthday celebration where two University of Pretoria students dressed up like domestic workers and painted their faces and arms black is not the first racism case to come from a formally Afrikaans university. The South African Human Rights Commission reports that out of the 500 reports of racism it received in the last year, most of them were from universities.
In 2012 a student in North West University died because of a racist practice. Two Students of the University of Free State are currently facing a court case for allegedly assaulting and driving over a black student.
University students are supposed to be our brightest people and the ones who will one day lead the country. What happens in universities will eventually be the culture of businesses and other influential spheres of society.
These young people are not growing up in apartheid South Africa. Where then does their racism come from?
What children do is often what they see at home. Parents ignorantly or purposefully feed their children the lies from the old apartheid system. The trouble is that the children live under a new system now. The two worlds clash. So the children carry around old system mentality in a new world. The offender and the offended are both victims.
Racism is ultimately the demonisation of another human being. Hatred, unforgiveness, bitterness, anger and racism are like poison. You can drink it and lie about it however signs of death will eventually show. Was it not Mandela who said that resentment is stupid because it is like drinking poison and hoping that someone else will die?
He was talking about our country that drinks the poison of racism at home, breastfeeding it to her children and hoping that someone else’s children will die. But it is the children of this country who are in courtrooms over racist actions or facing disciplinary action in universities.
If parents have failed, whose role is it to stop the poison that will destroy us if we do nothing about it?
When these incidents happen, the student political parties are always the first to respond, which is commendable. While the role that politicians play is important, they cannot fix people’s hearts. Where are the Christian student organisations? How are they responding to the situation. What is their role?
If Christians believe in the work of Jesus Christ, they should have hearts that are full of love for others. This love should break down the barriers between the different groups in our society and heal divisions. But if divisions are allowed to fester even within the church our nation will not heal. Healing needs to start from a spiritual place.
Mandela Day attracts quite a lot of activity for everyone in the country to do good works. It is a healthy practice that teaches a nation that is always demanding, to give for a change. The church can similarly adopt a day such as Freedom Day to come together in public spaces annually to engage the greater South African population on the meaning of freedom beyond the political definition. The church has a role to teach people to live as free people who love and honour one another regardless of race, gender or culture.
Racism is largely a social issue. Universities clearly need assistance to teach students the value of all human beings. The church has a role to play in helping universities to respond to racism. Court cases and expelling students cannot be the only solution. Such punitive measures do not address the core of the issue. Let Christians not wait for another racist act to happen before we act.
These future leaders must be rescued from the poison they may have drunk from the older generation. Let them drink from the cup of freedom.
By Siki Dlanga