The Anti-Racism Network of SA hopes to find a response to a hardening of racist attitudes, but it must be grounded and open, writes Luke Spiropoulos.
This weekend, the Ahmed Kathrada and Nelson Mandela foundations hosted the first of what will become a series of historic workshops and conferences of the Anti-Racism Network of South Africa (ARNSA).
Organised with the backing of the Foundation for Human Rights and the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, the network is an outcome of a month-long process of research and consultation with organisations interested in responding to the apparent resurgence of racist incidents and a hardening of racist attitudes in the country over the past few years.
The process showed that the organisations that see proactive anti-racism as a part of their mandate do not have the strength or resources to make a significant dent on their own, nor do they always know what the best responses might be.
It was generally agreed that in order to be truly effective in a holistic fight against racism in South Africa, a network of mutually supportive interested parties would need to be developed.
The two-day workshop was intended to introduce the idea of such a network to a larger group of organisations and institutions in civil society, higher education and the state. It was to provide a concrete shape to what a network of this kind should look like and do.
A presentation on the state of anti-racism work showed how this tends to focus either on socialisation “dialogues” or on educational efforts, and is concentrated in only a handful of under-resourced organisations in a few cities across the country.
Their ability to influence the deeper structural nature of the problem is thus severely curtailed, especially without the feedback and multiplier effects of a national network.
At the same time, other organisations, which deal only with structural socio-economic outcomes of our racialised history, tend to de-emphasise the centrality of racism to their work. This presentation served also as a warning. It emphasised the complexity of the problem, the interlocking forms of inequity that feed into it and the theoretical and ideological differences that have bedevilled similar efforts around the world.
The workshop proceeded to a conversation about similar structures globally and the different strategies that they have employed over time.
A later broad discussion involved presentations from elements of the state responsible for aspects of anti-racism work in South Africa today. These include the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), the Chief Directorate of Social Justice and Participatory Democracy in the Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Directorate of Social Cohesion and Gender Equity in the Department of Basic Education (DBE).
These organisations painted a picture of incredible challenges in facing the problems presented with few resources, human and financial, and long (though often necessarily so) bureaucratic processes.
The results of these challenges include the fact that the DoJ is responsible for producing a National Action Plan (NAP) against racism, which was mandated 14 years ago at the Durban World Conference Against Racism and is yet to be completed. Similarly, the DBE has given to a single, under-resourced directorate the responsibility of managing more or less all the social ills for which schools are expected to teach responses to our children.
The Human Rights Commission, an institution that has only 200 staff across the country to deal with almost all the alleged contraventions of human rights that take place, spoke at length about the preponderance of allegations that they receive that specifically cite racism. These allegations, and the responses available to the SAHRC introduced a mass of complexity to what is an already fraught arena.
At the same time, contributions to things like the NAP and the education departments’ efforts presented important possible avenues for action for the network. This is in terms of oversight functions and advocacy, and in more collaboratory functions.
The networks’ strength, as a body capable of acting at a much greater pace than the state over a large geographical area, was also made clear from this interaction.
Much of this informed a lively discussion of the guiding principles that should broadly inform the mission of ARNSA and its affiliates. The most central of these was that the network must be grounded and open.
This means that it should be based in large part on local and community action and be capable of incorporating as many organisations professing anti-racist principles as possible in order to expand its reach and deepen its impact.
The various inputs will be processed and considered by the organisations represented at the workshop in the coming weeks.
This will come to serve as the founding document of the network to be officially launched in October.
* Luke Spiropoulos is the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation’s researcher.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.