Essop Pahad - Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance

15 December 2005

15 December 2005

Towards reconciliation and nation-building: A nation in dialogue

The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2001 as the United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilisations. 2001 was also the International Year of Mobilisation against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, which sought to draw the world's attention to the objectives of the World Conference and giving renewed impetus to the political commitment to eliminate all forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

The World Conference Against Racism, Xenophobia and Related Intolerances was held in Durban later that year. The conference was a landmark event as the international community gathered to deliberate on the challenges posed by the multiple manifestations of racism, xenophobia and related intolerances. The Durban conference clearly took a very comprehensive approach to issues of racism, as xenophobia and related intolerances are not covered by the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination. The Durban Declaration and Programme of Action were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in early 2002 (General Assembly Resolution 56/266).

Today it is clear to us that the ideals behind the calls for the creation of non-racist non-sexist societies regionally and globally have still not been attained. Around the world people continue to be victimised because of the colour of their skin. This is reflected in historically reproduced patterns of racialised inequality, in patterns of social exclusion, marginalisation, human degradation, violence and racial and ethnic cleansing.

What is required, is to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerances, while simultaneously articulating a vision of a non-racist non- sexist world in which everyone can contribute to their fullest and can develop their talents and capacities to the fullest free from discrimination.

In articulating this vision, there must be a genuine acknowledgement of and dialogue about the multiple manifestations of racism and racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerances. There can be no real movement, no real embracing of the ideals of non-racism and non-sexism without this acknowledgement and dialogue.

It is essential to create and provide safe spaces for people in South Africa and around the world to share their experiences about racism and other forms of discrimination in dialogue with one another. The debate about racism need not be as polarised as it currently is in many parts of the world. A balanced dialogue is not about guilt or recrimination. It is purposeful – it is aimed at creating a better world for all who live it. A balanced dialogue begins with recognition of the history and the reality of racism and racial discrimination, but it progresses to issues of social justice, equality, equality of opportunity, freedoms, rights and responsibilities and the creation of an inclusive society.

Despite efforts by the United Nations and the universal revulsion against all forms of racial classification and categorising, racism has not only persisted but continues to be reproduced. Certainly, the fight against racial discrimination is not over. In the present conjuncture it has taken on different forms. In many countries around the world, as a result of the post 1960s massive increase in the global migration of peoples there are issues of xenophobia and the socio-economic and political rights of immigrants and other legal migrants, as well as the rights of undocumented migrants and refugees. In many zones of conflict there are issues of religious and ethnic persecution and ethnic cleansing. The cases of Bosnia and Rwanda throw into sharp relief the tension between a commitment to human rights everywhere and national sovereignty.

The manifestations of racism and racial discrimination are different in various parts of the world. In high immigrant receiving countries there are issues of settlement of immigrants, racialised poverty, labour market integration, the existence of the dual “racialised” labour market, representation and the range of complex issues related to the socio-economic and political inclusion of newcomers into the mainstream of society. In many of these countries there has developed the “backlash” against immigrants and given that the post 1960s migrants have largely been from the South, the backlash has racial overtones. In many developing countries, racism is exacerbated by poverty, underdevelopment, conflict, and migration by internally and externally displaced peoples.

No discussion of racism can ignore the plight of indigenous peoples around the world. Increasingly indigenous peoples in the North and the South have begun to assert their land claims rights, and their right to self determination and sovereignty. Whether it is the Khoisan people of Southern Africa, the Maori of New Zealand, the Aborigines of Australia, the indigenous peoples and nations of Central, South and North America or the various indigenous nations in Asia they are all asserting their indigenous rights to land, culture including language, religion and sovereignty. The indigenous peoples' rights movement is certainly an integral part of the broader movement against racism.

Post 9/11, global attention has shifted to issues of discrimination, marginalisation, human rights abuses and denial of basic freedoms directed at Muslims in various countries. This in turn has sparked a debate that focuses on whether forms of religious intolerances constitute racism. Is anti-Semitism racism? Is the current global wave of prejudice and overt discrimination and acts of violence against Muslims racism?

What needs to be analytically unpacked is the effect of importing into a definition of racial discrimination, religious discrimination. There needs to be a more critical analysis and assessment of the relationship between racism and racial discrimination on the one hand and discrimination, prejudices and stereotyping on the basis of religious affiliation on the other hand. The debate has nonetheless has pointed to issues of definitional clarity and coverage in the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination.

From the perspective of creating a non-racist non-sexist, socially cohesive society that truly belongs to all who live in it, there are a number of issues that have to be dealt with. Racism and racial discrimination constitute fundamental violations of human rights and the core issues that preoccupy historically disadvantaged communities now also include issues of power, access, equity, representation and participation, transformation and removal of discriminatory barriers, institutional accommodation and non-racism.

So we ask: Are international conventions and national constitutions proclaiming equality of all and freedom from discrimination on enumerated grounds including race sufficient to create inclusive societies? Are they sufficient to deal with the complex issues of reparations related to history and remedies related to contemporary racial injustices? Do they shed light on the way to deal with individual and group claims of systemic and structural discrimination?

Certainly, power sharing and equality rights claims by members of historically disadvantaged communities have become the subject of human rights claims, constitutional challenges and have found their way into the international arena. And the results have been mixed. In some national jurisdictions constitutional courts have begun to focus on systemic discrimination – looking at the effects and not at the intentions of laws, regulations, policies and procedures. In some national jurisdictions affirmative action policies have been struck down while in other jurisdictions they have been upheld as necessary remedies to ensure that systemic discrimination is not structurally reproduced in the present and the future. Therefore, in seeking to accommodate differences, promote unity in diversity and promote heterogeneous social cohesion there has to be space for the state to intervene to ensure equality of opportunity.

Apartheid in South Africa was declared a Crime against Humanity by the United Nations. And our people with the assistance of solidarity movements around the world fought for and won our freedom from racial oppression and tyranny. The hand over of political power to a new democratically elected government in 1994, following the first ever general election by all people who live in South Africa, presented our country with an opportunity to break with its apartheid past and to put in place new legislative frameworks for dismantling institutionalised racial discrimination.

Our country has made considerable gains in efforts to combat racism since 1994. The legislative framework for these gains is the Constitution, (Act 108 of 1996) which enshrines equality as a foundational value in its Preamble and provisions of the Bill of Rights. Section 9 of the Constitution makes provision for the enactment of legislation to give effect to the vision of equality provided for in the Constitution. The Constitution is also the basis on which most discriminatory legislation of the apartheid era was repealed. Key pillars of the apartheid era such as the notorious Group Areas Act, Bantu authorities Act, Bantu Education Act, Separate Amenities Act, Abolition of Passes Act, and Job Reservation Act were the main targets of this legal reform process.

The Constitution further entrenches dignity, freedom, social justice, fairness to all citizens as values that underpin our vision of democracy in the new South Africa. Based on this legislative framework, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process represented the first and most comprehensive attempt at reconciliation, confronting as it did our country's tragic past. It played the unique role of opening up political dialogue to facilitate the process of dealing with historical injustices.

By bringing about an element of finality to this process, it created conditions for reconciliation and healing of a previously divided nation. It also had a deterrent effect on highly visible forms of discriminatory conduct by law enforcement agencies. Indeed the willingness of Blacks to forgive and initiatives such as the “Home for All Campaign” by white South Africans bear testimony to the impact that the Truth and Reconciliation's (TRC) message of reconciliation had on ordinary South Africans.

In our country much remains to be done to redress the legacy of immense inequalities based on race. The need for the protection, promotion and monitoring of the right to equality is outlined in various pieces of legislation, inter alia the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act and the Employment Equity Act. However, the Equality Act is by far the most comprehensive and the most important piece of legislation that prohibits unfair discrimination after the Constitution.

The preamble to the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act of 2000 states that “Although significant progress has been made in restructuring and transforming our society and institutions, systemic inequalities and unfair discrimination remain embedded in our social structures, practices and attitudes”.

The emphasis on race acknowledges the fact that race has been and continues to be the basis for the most pervasive and entrenched forms of discrimination. Thus Section 6 provides that “Neither the State nor any person may unfairly discriminate against any person”, while Section seven specifically prohibits unfair discrimination on the grounds of race.

As a means of redress, the Act provides for the setting up of Equality courts, structured in such a way as to render them user friendly and less formal, thereby doing away with the need for legal representation. These courts have been operational since 1993. The redress measures they provide include damages, an apology and interdicts. The Act further seeks to advance equality by requiring organs of state to develop equality plans as well as making it an obligation on the part all persons to promote equality. In the context of South Africa's history of inequality, it is significant that this Act and other anti-discrimination legislation place an emphasis on state action that will promote the protection of vulnerable and disadvantaged individuals, taking into account the actual social and economic conditions that have resulted in differences and inequality among groups.

The uniqueness of the Equality Act is that it moves beyond the duty to refrain from discriminating to imposing positive duties on government, public and private bodies, the entities and South African populace to promote equality (Ss 24 and 25). This constitutes an important recognition of the shift from formal to substantive equality. An equally important aim of the equality clause is to redress disadvantage. This means in addition to merely compensating identified victims, there is a proactive duty to restructure institutions.

To do this, the government has since 1994 put in place a transformation agenda that includes:

  • Overhauling the legislative framework upon which the edifice of institutionalised racial discrimination was based;
  • Creation of new institutional arrangements and structures to combat racism;
  • Transformation of government services in line with the principle of broad representation;
  • Expanded delivery of social services; and
  • Creation of Chapter nine institutions to inculcate a culture of human rights.

While the Constitution clearly lays the foundation for the construction of a non-racial society and considerable progress made with the enactment of a number of anti discrimination laws, it is evident that legislation alone will not eliminate racism or racial discrimination. Deeply entrenched social attitudes are reproducing new forms of racial prejudice while at the same time there are signs that the country may be in a state of denial. The subject of racism is viewed as an obstacle to realising the vision of realising a united non-racial and non-sexist South African society.

In the first few years after it was established, the South African Human Rights Commission conducted investigations into racism in schools, in the media, and held inquiries into specific racial incidents in the army and the media. In these and other cases, the problems of race and racism were invariably tackled in reaction to something that had happened, that is, the initiatives were reactive, ad hoc and incident related.

It was against this background that President T M Mbeki called for a national conference on racism in his first Annual State of the Nation Address to mark the official opening of Parliament on 4 February 2000. The President was challenging all South Africans to reflect seriously about what role each person has to play in developing a society where racism is not a part of the fabric of society. Quite clearly, the call was a pointer to the effect that eliminating racism was not just a challenge for government alone but needed a coordinated national project to drive it.

Accordingly, the conference theme was “Overcoming racism, a nation in dialogue”. This was indeed the spirit in which deliberations took place, bringing together South Africans from across the political and social spectrum, including academics, faith communities and civil society. At the end of the conference, the South African Millennium Statement on Racism and Programme of Action was adopted by the delegates. The Programme of Action identified critical areas of national concern that warranted immediate action. It also proposed that the decade 2001-2010 be declared the Decade for the national mobilisation against racism. Organisations in civil society were urged to establish and spearhead a national anti-racism forum that would develop into a movement against racism at all levels of society.

Government was urged to speed up the provision of reparations for victims of racism recommended by the TRC Report (1998). Promotion of anti-racism education and training in all educational institutions and anti-racism training had to be made available to public service officials and other service providers, such as business, hospitality as well as leisure and entertainment industries.

Transformation of the justice system was highlighted to ensure representivity, rule by consent, popular participation in the justice system and implementation of support measures for victims of crimes motivated by racism. The South African Human Rights Commission was mandated to develop and adopt a national action plan and strategy to combat racism. The Commission did indeed develop the plan which was later to be incorporated into the Programme of Action of the World Conference Against Racism, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.

As a consequence of legislative reform, various apartheid era public administrations have been integrated. Transformation of government services has to a large extent translated into broad representative service delivery to the public. Much progress has been made by government departments in developing programmes, policies and administrative measures to address inequalities in service delivery across public sectors such as health, education, employment and social services. But as our government has repeatedly stated much more needs to be done.

We are equally concerned about the critical challenges of double and triple disadvantage. Poverty is racialised and gendered. And among the most seriously disadvantaged are black women and children with disabilities living in rural areas. This is the compounding effect of racism, sexism and other forms of oppression and discrimination. As a government we are making deliberate and conscious policy choices to deal with these challenges. We have made very positive strides in the fight against poverty, racialised poverty, gendered poverty and child poverty especially with respect to the provision of services and education and health care. In each of these spheres improving the quality of life is simultaneously a fight against the legacy of apartheid and a fight against systemic racial discrimination.

As part of our commitment emanating from Durban, the National Forum Against Racism was launched on the 30 July 2003. At a meeting of the interim National Forum Against Racism prior to the launch, the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development tabled a draft Government Plan of Action and requested all stakeholders to provide inputs with a view to developing a consolidated National Action Plan to be lodged with the United Nations (UN) in due course.

The National Forum Against Racism has been established and the Secretariat which serves as a technical arm of this Forum has been set up. What remains is the development and implementation of the National Action Plan Against Racism.
As the host of the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR), the South African government has played a leading role within the African Group and in the UN Generally. Since the Durban Conference, South Africa has been the author of resolutions on racism within the context of both the UN Commission on Human Rights and UN General Assembly.

Nationally and globally there is concern about the relationship between racism and sexism, racism, sexism and disability, racism and well being, racism and education, the effects of the racially split and fractured labour market (globally and within nations); racism and globalisation; and racism, poverty and underdevelopment.

The fight against racism, xenophobia and related intolerances is a global fight but one that more often than not expresses itself at local levels. We in South Africa are fully aware of the importance of global solidarity in the struggle against racism. And if there is one lesson we can impart, it is that local and national struggles against racism must be complemented by a global struggle against racism.

As a government and as a country that hosted the 2001 Durban Conference we are fully convinced of the need for a review conference. The fight against racism, xenophobia and related intolerances must, be an integral part of the struggle against other forms of oppression, and must remain front and centre on the world stage.

Thank you.

Minister in The Presidency, Dr Essop Pahad

Issued by: Government Communications (GCIS)


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