By Themba Sepotokele

The recent violent protests that led to more than 300 deaths following the looting and left several businesses looted and reduced to ashes in various parts of KwaZulu-Natal and some parts of Gauteng, have peeled another layer on race relations in the country, especially between Black Africans and Indians.

What happened in Phoenix, KwaZulu-Natal, when armed militia went on the rampage attacking blacks, has exposed the challenges facing the country once dubbed as a “Rainbow Nation”, especially during the twilight of our democracy when the world’s famous president Nelson Mandela ascended the West Wing of the Union Buildings.

The random attacks, maiming and slaying of back people by an armed marauding gang under the guise of defending their lives and livelihoods which led to what is now arguably referred to as the Phoenix Massacre, should not be peppered and sanitised.
It was nothing but racial tension.

In their defence, the militia, armed to the teeth, went on the rampage attacking anyone who is black, because in their eyes, every black person was behind the violent unrest. As much as not every person of Indian descent was part of the marauding gang, those who resorted to an ostrich approach or stood on the fence, are complicit and equally guilty.

Equally so, not all blacks were either instigators or looters, and those who know that their friends, families, colleagues, comrades and compatriots were part of the looting spree which nearly brought the country’s economy to its knees and are silent, complicit and equally guilty.
Ugly scenes which engulfed the country following the incarceration of former president Jacob Zuma did not only paint a gloomy picture about the country, but have also left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth.

South Africa is a beacon of hope and the only country in the continent that the rest of the world regards as a miracle country following the transfer of power from the minority to the majority in 1994.

Recently, the outgoing ambassador of Germany, told a book launch that the world’s eyes were firmly glued on South Africa as the last bastion of hope in the content often referred to by the West as the “dark continent”.

He implored those attending the book launch of Themba Maseko, For My Country, not to fail the country which has similarities with Germany.
Germany had survived the holocaust and South African had survived apartheid, and both rose from the ashes to rebuild themselves. It is on this score that the law has to be harsh of the instigators and looters of the recent violent protests and must also bite the vigilante group and militia that took the law into their own hands.

What happened in Phoenix could have happened anywhere in Indian dominant areas such as Lenasia in Johannesburg or Ladium in Pretoria, Gauteng.

As much as Phoenix became the epicentre of racial tension between blacks and Indians, with the latter attacking the former, under the guise of defending their properties, not only Indian businesses were looted and destroyed.

Township businesses at Jabulani Mall, Protea Point, Protea South and Protea Glen are mostly owned by black people. Therefore, why black business people did not resort to militia gangs?

The answer lies in the racial segregation of our country. Apartheid spatial development is the cause of all the ills and as we preach racism, South Africans off all hue should do more to promote reconciliation, non-racialism and non-sexism as the Constitution implores all of us.

What happened in Phoenix following the unrest was nothing but racist and criminal. It exposed racial polarisation, but also affords us an opportunity to peel through what some people, especially perpetrators of racism, often dismiss.

In my book, there is nothing like “subtle racism”. It is racism and colour-coding or sanitising. It will unfortunately not help the situation but this vicious cycle would repeat itself, if not fully addressed.

South Africa is a democratic country, therefore lawlessness and anarchy cannot be tolerated. Perpetrators and instigators of these acts of violence should face the full might of the law.

Rather than put a plaster on a festering sore, we should tackle racism with gusto and make the racists among us feel uncomfortable wherever they are.

South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white. We must confront the issue of race and racism head-on, while simultaneously deal with racism, sexism, tribalism, xenophobia, homophobia and Afrophobia – and all other forms of discrimination – in order to attain a free and prosperous South Africa.

Ugly scenes which had been beamed locally and internationally have put South Africa under the microscope. But this country has a propensity and potential to rise like a phoenix from the ashes.

Themba Sepotokele is a journalist, communication strategist and media trainer.

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