By Neeshan Balton
The Anti-Racism Network South Africa (ARNSA) will on November 1 and 2 in Johannesburg host its annual conference, this year themed ‘Pathways to Anti-Racism’.
It will bring together a range of organisations, key thinkers and policy-makers from various sectors to both understand the resurgence of racism locally and globally, and explore practical ways in which to deal with the scourge.
The conference will this year host a representative from the UK based organisation, Show Racism the Red Card, which uses the popularity of soccer to drive its anti-racism awareness work. This session will focus on the rise and manifestation of right-wing racism globally, and the need for a coordinated global response to it from progressive organisations.
Representatives from global retailer, H&M, are expected to share lessons that businesses can draw from, following their racist hoodie advert. After a meeting with the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation and other organisations at the Swedish Embassy several months ago, H&M has voluntarily agreed to report to the South African Human Rights Commission on progress it has made in reviewing its policies and the implementation thereof since the advert incident.
There will also be a segment focusing on building inclusivity at schools following a series of racial incidents and debates about discriminatory policies at educational institutes.
A representative from the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development will provide insight into the National Action Plan to Combat Racism, and the ‘Hate Crimes’ Bill.
This will be followed by a presentation of the Kathrada Foundation’s Zimele Racism Reporting App, which has been improved since its pilot phase during Anti-Racism Week this year. The audience will be expected to provide feedback on the app, which will be further refined, before its official launch.
Panels will focus on how to build anti-racism capacity within organisations, while the final session will explore the theme, ‘How should we deal with racists?’. Political parties are expected to respond to a paper that will debate whether punitive measures, such as the criminalisation of racism, should be the primary means of dealing with racist offenders.
Day two of the conference, which is closed to organisations who are specifically interested in joining ARNSA, will deliberate on how to strengthen the network. The network was formed in 2015 by the Kathrada and Nelson Mandela Foundations with the aim of ensuring that tackling racism remains on the national agenda, and that organisations locally are capacitated to deal with racial issues within communities.
The conference comes at an important time – a period in which we’re beginning to see distinct shifts globally towards right wing, fascist thinking. We’re living in a world that is increasingly polarised, with policies and practices that are often framed by sentiment that is anti-immigration, anti-Black, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic.
This encroaching narrow conservatism is also intersectional, negatively impacting the poorest of poor, women, and all of whom are most vulnerable in society.
Four years ago, speaking at the United Nations General Assembly, anti-apartheid struggle veteran Ahmed Kathrada said that “we can safely assume that we might be at a crossroads with regards to the resurgence of global racism”.
Since then, we’ve seen Donald Trump’s ascendency to power and the emergence of right-wing political parties across Europe. The Sweden Democrats, a party with roots in the neo-Nazi movement, won an unprecedented 17.6 percent in the Nordic country’s most recent elections. Earlier this year, the populist Five Star Movement and nationalist Lega party formed a coalition of the right, realigning the Italian political landscape.
In the developing world, we’ve seen the troubling emergence of Hindu nationalism under the Bharatiya Janata Party, while in Brazil currently, we’re witnessing the growing popularity of right-wing candidate, Jair Bolsonaro.
Back home in South Africa, not only have we had repeated xenophobic attacks, but we now have a political party, the African Basic Movement, whose core mandate revolves around getting “rid of foreigners”. The Lawyers for Human Rights, supported by the Kathrada Foundation and other organisations, has written to the Independent Electoral Commission, calling for the deregistration of the party.
We also have examples of how narrow interest groups have gained growing recognition and support. People are increasingly being mobilised around ethnic, tribal or racial identity in South Africa in a bid to secure resources or government services.
Others yet, have managed to establish links abroad. An example of this is AfriForum’s recent lobbying expedition to Washington.
For South Africans, beyond the broader global context, is the day-to-day lived experiences of entrenched structural racism, as well as personal racism. We have had our fair share of everything from school policy discrimination, to the racist vitriol of Adam Catzavelos, Velaphi Khumalo, Vicki Momberg and Kessie Nair.
These examples – both locally and internationally – point to several trends: a growing tendency towards expressing racism overtly without shame or a sense of fear for the consequences; leadership positions being won on populist, nationalist rhetoric; the use of electoral of other platforms to legitimise racist policies or narratives; and the emergence of organised and coordinated right wing movements that are increasingly interconnected.
When Kathrada delivered his UN speech, he called for what he described as the ‘Greenpeace of anti-racism’. In essence, he was calling for progressive organisations globally to present the alternative, the counter-narrative to the emerging global right.
To do this, local formations dedicated to fighting racism in whichever sector they’re based in, will be required to organise themselves into a national coalition. This is essentially the base that ARNSA aims to build.
In turn, national coalitions will have to develop links with similar organisations globally. Already, ARNSA has set up links with the European Network Against Racism and other organisations, but these relationships need to be strengthened and extended to a broader international network.
In this way, irrespective of how big or small an organisation, business, union, government department, religious, sports or cultural group, media institute or school or university is, they can play an important role in challenging racism.
In a very grassroots way, we can build a united front against the growing threat of globally coordinated racism.
* The ARNSA conference takes place at Mancosa, 1 Cedar Avenue, Auckland Park, Johannesburg from 8am on both November 1 and 2. Registration is free and open to all organisations committed to tackling racism. Organisations who are interested in being part of ARNSA are requested to specify as such in order to be part of deliberations on day two of the conference. For more information, contact the ARNSA coordinator, Busisiwe Nkosi, by calling 011 854 0082 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
* Neeshan Balton is the Executive Director of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation.