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Address by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, the Hon JH Jeffery, MP, at the National Action Plan Provincial Consultation Session in the Western Cape held at the Townhouse Hotel, Cape Town, 29 June 2016

Good morning and welcome to you all at this, our Provincial Consultation Session for the Western Cape.

As Adv Mohamed mentioned this is our 7th provincial consultation on the National Action Plan.  We’ve been to 6 other provinces so far, and after today, we still need to visit Limpopo and North West.

We’ve been encouraged by the significant interest shown in the draft NAP and by the response from across all sectors and stakeholders.
This shows us is that the fight against racism and discrimination continues.
It shows us that the fight against racism and discrimination matters.
It shows us that our people care.

Professor Achille Mbembe of Wits recently spoke about the conditions supporting racism in South Africa. Firstly, he argues that there has been a global re-emergence of racism, chauvinism, xenophobia, homophobia, Islamophobia.

He states, poignantly, that “People seem to be afraid and crippled by the fear of those who do not look like them almost everywhere.”

This, he says, is not at all a specifically South African epidemic and that the struggle against racism has to be local and national, but if we really want to address racism we have keep an eye on what is going on globally as well.

He argues that racism keeps mutating. He refers to what he calls a “privatisation of racism” and says, I quote,
“… that racism becomes like a matter of preference, of taste. “I don’t like pepper, I don’t like blacks”… I don’t like pepper for instance so there is nothing wrong with me not liking pepper, it’s a matter of taste. We see this ideology shared and disseminated largely not only here but of course abroad. So it makes it very difficult to pinpoint racism and to combat it.” (Close quote)

Which brings me to the issue of race relations. The Human Sciences Research Council’s South African Social Attitudes Survey, released last month, tells us that contrary to what we may see on social media, many in the country feel that race relations have been improving. 

In 2015, 51% of all South Africans indicated that race relations had improved, 36% indicated that they had remained unchanged, and only 13% felt they had deteriorated.

This correlates with the picture we get from an Institute of Race Relations study, which was released earlier this year, which asked respondents if race relations had improved since 1994.

In total, 76% of respondents thought race relations had either improved or stayed the same, while only 15% thought they had worsened. When parents were asked whether they would support their children being taught by a school teacher of another race an encouraging 91% of South Africans said it did not matter what race their children’s teachers were.

So if race relations are indeed improving, why are we seeing a real increase – both in numbers and intensity - in racist comments and sentiments on, particularly, social media?  This is something that requires serious and in-depth consideration.

The second point that Prof Mbembe makes that I would like to highlight is that he says that if we really want to fight racism we should all be joining the anti-racism network. It means, he says, the coming together of civil society organisations and individuals, committed to the project of non-racialism.
That is what we are doing here today.

The NAP is a coming together of all role-players who are saying that enough is enough, that we must rid our country of racism, discrimination and prejudice.

That’s why the NAP is so important.
We need a holistic approach to fight racism – we cannot leave it up to legislation alone, and think that the law can change people.
We can’t turn a blind eye and say its government’s problem to deal with.
We can’t say civil society is working at grass roots level in our community so let’s leave it up to them.

The NAP must be a joint effort, a collaboration in partnership with each other. That is why the consultation process – of which today’s session is a part of - is vitally important. Government is not going to dictate what should be in the NAP.  It is up to civil society, to NGOs, faith-based organisations, labour, business, the media, in fact all other stakeholders, to give us a clear mandate so that we can move the NAP forward together.

As mentioned earlier, you will note that the draft NAP is a framework.  The tables, in particular, are blank so to ensure that we get specific pointers from civil society and various role-players to establish exactly what action we need to take, where we need to take it, by whom and within what time-frame.
A national action plan should embrace the broadest range of participants from all sectors of society working on anti-discrimination. It is also fundamentally important that a national action plan should be action-oriented so as to facilitate its implementation.

We are fortunate that other countries have drawn up national action plans against racism and racial discrimination and that we can draw from their experiences and tailor-make it to South African circumstances. We need to identify priority areas or objectives and then come up with the actions and activities required to meet those objectives. For example, if we look at Canada, Canada’s Action Plan against Racismfocuses on six key priority areas:

  • Assist victims and groups vulnerable to racism and related forms of discrimination;
  • Develop forward-looking approaches to promote diversity and combat racism;
  • Strengthen the role of civil society;
  • Strengthen regional and international cooperation;
  • Educate children and youth on diversity and anti-racism; and
  • Counter hate and bias.

A key feature of the Canadian action plan is the issue of monitoring progress and reporting back. Their Department of Canadian Heritage established an accountability framework and to evaluate their national action plan’s long-term impact, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada assists to identify indicators to monitor progress in the fight against racism. Ireland’s National Action Plan contained a section called the “scoreboard” – showing exactly what’s been achieved under each objective.

The French action plan is the very latest plan. It’s titled “Mobilizing France against Racism and Anti-Semitism 2015 – 2017” and is a good example of a plan which contains very specific and detailed actions. We need to think creatively and consider which of these actions could be utilized or modified to fit in a uniquely South African environment.

Some of the actions in the French plan are to:

  • Gain a better knowledge of racism and anti-Semitism by carrying out an annual survey of victims.
  • Publish an annual list of the sentences handed down by the courts.
  • Include punishment of hate speech in the field of criminal law to simplify investigation and judgment rules.
  • Make racism and anti-Semitism an aggravating factor for all crimes and offences.
  • Make it possible to initiate a criminal order procedure in the case of racist insults, and
  • Develop alternative and educational sentences.

In this regard, they make use good of community service. Community service enables offenders to acknowledge the gravity of their offence without being removed from society.

The French plan thus calls on prosecutors and probation services therefore need to take action, with an educational aim, to increase the number of community service placements in associations promoting remembrance, restoration of damaged religious or cultural buildings, etc. They also make use of so-called “citizenship courses”. Citizenship courses now include a specific module on combating racism and anti-Semitism. Other actions include to:

  • Guarantee the security of places of worship, schools and Jewish and Muslim meeting places.
  • Authorize class actions by law to combat discrimination more effectively, amd
  • Provide specialized assistance to victims of racist and anti-Semitic acts.

Their actions relating to countering racist and anti-Semitic content online and on social media is particularly innovative. Some of the actions include to:

  • Make it an obligation for platforms hosting content intended for the French public to have a legal base in France.
  • Create a national unit against hatred on the Internet.
  • Issue e-warnings to reduce the number of repeat offences, and
  • Give associations the means to promote an effective counter-discourse.

It is worth noting that France’s plan has a very specific focus on schools. It provides that schools are at the heart of the fight against racism, as places where knowledge is passed on and pupils learn how to live together. But, it says, education spreads far beyond the classroom: it takes place through culture, visiting remembrance sites, learning about community life, and sport. In this regard, some of the actions include to:

  • Strengthen and structure training and resources dedicated to combating racism and anti-Semitism.
  • Support educational teams that are dealing with incidents.
  • Establish a network of racism and anti-Semitism advisers in higher education establishments.
  • Ensuring all incidents are followed up on by evaluating the reporting system, giving pupils greater responsibility and improving teaching about sanctions.
  • Evaluate the quality of the reporting system, the effectiveness of preventive, educational responses, and the use of sanctions in the school environment.
  • Give pupils more responsibility and develop peer mediation to improve the atmosphere and reduce racism and anti-Semitism in schools.
  • Set up a “Remembrance and Histories” response fund to mobilize and foster links between remembrance institutions.
  • Ensure each stage of education focuses on a remembrance site and a particular work, to educate against racism and anti-Semitism.
  • Develop audiovisual education in partnership with actors in this field, such as France Télévisions.
  • Encourage initiatives to combat racism and anti-Semitism, in the framework of education projects.
  • Increase vigilance towards anti-Semitism and racism in sport.
  • Train 1000 ambassadors for “values in sport”.

I cite these examples to show that a national action plan must be cross-cutting. It must touch on education, on arts and culture, on justice, on sport. It can only succeed if it is to be holistic and transversal in reach and impact.

These are some of the issues that we would need your inputs on today. What do we do, practically, to build a truly non-racial, non-sexist society? How do we create a country of tolerance and respect for the dignity and human rights of others? What have we done so far – what works, what doesn’t and what can we do better?

Only with your commitment to the process and your comments and suggestions can we make the NAP work. As the late President Mandela said: “We must use the time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.”

Let us use today well.  The time to end racism, discrimination and prejudice is now.

I thank you.