‘Social justice starts at school’ – Prof. Yusuf Sayed (2016), Centre for International Teacher Education at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT).
In the US, the schooling system has for a long time been intended to be the ‘great equaliser’ by bringing together children from all types of backgrounds and treating them the same while also ensuring they interact with one another on an equal footing. This aspiration has, however, not been met due to socioeconomic factors which prove to be too powerful for the school system to overcome (Erickson, 2015). This is likely the case worldwide, including in South Africa where schools must address social justice because they are a key site where the youth are socialised and learn a great deal about how to behave and interact with others. Nevertheless, race, class, wealth, and family and social ties greatly affect one’s education prospects and the reality of justice in society.
South African schools are either public or private, and the former are usually for lower-income groups and the latter for higher-income groups. Private schools offer scholarships to underprivileged bright children, but this does not equalise the situation as these children are a minority. Their exposure in the private school system can also cause problems and divide them from their home context, including from siblings and other family members and friends who don’t receive the same opportunity. Furthermore, children going to poorer performing public schools face rifts between them and other children attending better public schools, especially previously whites-only schools.
School governing bodies ‘captured to serve the self-interest of wealthy parents’
Among the critical success factors in making school a place for fostering social justice is education staff and parents’ actions as individuals. There are personal agendas and beliefs about how things should be done which greatly affect the situation. Parents who are well off and those who make the effort to involve themselves as much as possible in the overall running of the school and of the classrooms have considerable sway. Prof. Yusuf Sayed (2016) describes this as follows: ‘school governing bodies [SGBs] should be key spaces for democratic participation. But some of these bodies are captured to serve the self-interest of wealthy parents.’ Sayed says that they act with impunity and that class divisions in relation to this are as much a problem as racism in South African schools.
SGBs have been relatively independent since the end of Apartheid. The ANC government decided to decentralise control of schools so that previously excessive state authority (characterised by censorship and segregation) would be curbed, and communities would be more involved in school administration. For this reason, the major portion of the school system is termed ‘public education’ (and not ‘state education’), while the remaining smaller portion of schools are private. More recently, the government has been making moves to regain control over schools, partly because they have noticed the problem of SGBs being taken over and used to advantage the few, although there are serious concerns over how successful increased state control will be (Mabuza, 2017). The government has also encouraged more parents and pupils to be active in the SGB to ensure they are ‘spaces for democratic participation’ (Sayed, 2016).
Is private education always better than public education?
Those in private schools are mostly from better-off families, and there is money for extra classes for students who are struggling, and indeed even for those who aren’t, so that their marks are higher overall than for public school children. Private schools have better equipment, make use of technologies which benefit education, and they offer higher salaries which attract the best teachers and other school staff. There is also money, coaches, educators and time available for all types of extramural activities including sports, culture and music, and skills building such as photography and advanced computer classes. Wealthy parents are able to send their children for training and childcare outside school. For example, a private swimming coach or au pair who transports and helps children them with homework.
The opposite situation is often found in public schools where parents often do not have funds for additional activities and extra classes. Single and/or working parents may only be able to afford the basic school fees. Children are not kept as busy and do not have the advantages of extra lessons, skills building, or being ferried around by an au pair or parent who does not work to various activities. One advantage of public schooling, however, is that it places the responsibility to succeed to a greater degree on the individual child. This may seem unfair, but it is effective in building the characteristics of resilience and determination in the face of adversity.
In some cases, public school children have no teacher for certain subjects because the school cannot attract and pay enough staff, or the teachers are not well trained or even interested in their job. Some children, however, don’t resign themselves to the situation. They may get hold of whatever materials and textbooks they can and work individually or in groups to go through the syllabus as best they can, and they manage to pass, sometimes doing very well despite having no teacher. What must be noted is that resilience among poor children needs to be accompanied by some kind of support such as encouragement and basic resources (Williams et al., 2016). Resilience is highly valuable, but alone it is not enough.
In private schools, children have many of their problems solved for them by well-paid teachers, parents with free time, and au pairs. Forgot your homework? Don’t worry the au pair is on call to bring it in for you. The au pair also helped you put together great answers or gave you all the answers to the homework questions. Want to learn about drones? You get handed your own drone to play with, and you can read up about how to use it online on your PC or tablet as much as you like. Some schools are already offering drone training overseas, and the technology is set to become an increasingly useful and lucrative industry of its own (Nix, 2017). These may seem like great advantages. Having a drone to play with means that you will find it easier to work in drone technology or a related field. But it can teach some children that they don’t have to make an effort to get what they want or take responsibility for their own schoolwork. They are used to being everyone’s priority number one. On the other hand, children from poor backgrounds may have time-consuming chores to do such as fetching water, and not enough time to build such skills, even if they do have access to some technology.
To be fair, it must be noted that there are roleplayers in the private sector who have seen the problem and are making efforts to ensure students don’t leave private school without learning key coping skills and self-sufficiency. Some wealthy parents are afraid of their children developing ‘affluenza’, which encompasses the problems associated with being rich and spoilt in today’s world, including an ‘inability to understand the consequences of one’s actions’ (Rost, 2016). Children being ‘spoilt’ is a serious problem for society, and it should be seen as an accurate rather than affectionate term. Think of food which is spoilt. There often isn’t much that can be done with it, and it will probably cause illness if consumed. Yet, spoiling is not something children do to themselves and can’t really be blamed on children.
Privately schooled people, as adults, also have access to more resources and are more socially mobile, but how they use these benefits will not necessarily be for anyone’s good in the long-term, including their own. The inherited family business which goes under when in the hands of subsequent generations is a typical example of this problem (Xue, 2016). Private school children are sometimes difficult to deal with as adults in the working world as they have expectations about how they should be treated and what should be done for them. In higher education, they can struggle because lecturers have completely different methods to private school teachers. If a student doesn’t perform, no one blames the university staff. What you achieve is almost entirely up to you in higher education. Universities are vastly different from private schools; they are more like public schools, giving public school students who are used to self-reliance an advantage (Preston, 2014).
Situations of socioeconomic variety in schooling
We also need to consider that public/poor vs private/wealthy is not the whole picture. Two other situations are discussed here, though there is also homeschooling and other education situations. The first situation is the child who receives a scholarship to go to an expensive school where they are the only ‘poor’ pupil or one of very few. This can be an opportunity to get a better quality education, but it has drawbacks. These children find themselves increasingly divided from their home situation and community, and it creates anxiety, dissatisfaction, jealousy, and even loathing of one’s situation. Megan Kenny (2017) describes her private school experience: ‘Unfortunately that opportunity for social mobility came at the price of a newly internalised shame about being poor, and an accompanying sense of isolation.’ She notes that the fear parents have that ‘their kids will miss out… causes otherwise progressive people to support institutions that are pivotal to the maintenance of structural inequality within society,’ and private schools subtly play on those fears. With the motto ‘diversity opens minds’ the school Kenny attended suggests that it has a diverse environment, but she says this was not true in social or cultural terms, only in teaching methods. She says that this is a specific kind of ‘diversity’ available only to the rich, which is not genuine diversity. Notably, Kenny (2017) describes how she succumbed to socioeconomic pressure and resorted to stealing so that she could dress like her peers and fit in. This also indicates that her school situation did not really encourage diversity.
Other troubling school mottos include ‘quality education by any means necessary’. ‘Any means necessary’ could end up being very high-priced and exclusive education in small classes. Though subtle, ‘success, nothing less’ indicates the wrong type of attitude because we also learn when we make mistakes. How the adults who form the school’s staff define ‘success’ and the type of achievement they push for are not necessarily good for pupils in the long-term. Kenny (2017) concludes that ‘Private schools not only reinforce class divisions, but inhibit the cultivation of empathetic and well rounded human beings from all kinds of backgrounds.’
A different situation is seen in what we can call ‘mixed’ schools, especially previously whites-only public schools where the fees are neither very high nor very low, and where there can be more of a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds among the children, which has its advantages for socialisation. However, in these schools, with the extra attention and training children of wealthier parents receive, they are most likely to be selected for sports, academic and cultural activities. Other children may not have transport and/or equipment, so they aren’t selected for activities. Some parents can afford a new full cricket kit and music instruments, and, in the classrooms, their children have all their books and stationery ready on time. Having all the setworks for a literature class is important for language learning, for example. Apparently ‘bright’ and ‘well-behaved’ children in socioeconomically mixed schools will be favoured by teachers and coaches because they come prepared and comply with requirements, which makes the adult’s job easier. Students without resources in mixed schools may be discriminated against, even ‘written off’ by teachers. School staff may disparage or ignore children who are not prepared and equipped, despite it not being their fault.
Some children will also be noticed more by everyone at a public school when their parents drive more expensive cars, make donations, and appear to be doing more for their children. Those with less to spend are seen as failing to prioritise their child’s education. A minority of parents may not prioritise education, and neither do they prioritise their children very much, but this is not the same as being disadvantaged by resource constraints. Yet, in the face of these adversities, some children still succeed because they have enough support. Families can go a long way by being encouraging and resourceful and refusing to allow circumstances to dictate a child’s success at school.
For social justice to be achieved in schooling, we need to break down barriers between students, and more parents and students must be active in shaping education. We cannot have a successful schooling system if it is usurped by wealthy parents and run to meet the desires of adults rather than the needs of the children. Schools need to be child-centred, child-friendly, safe and inclusive places where children can learn and socialise without anxiety over their economic background and favouritism.
Erickson M (2015) Children don’t live in a vacuum: Why US education is not the ‘great equalizer’. The Guardian, 8 September.
Kenny T (2017) I was a poor kid at a wealthy private school. It gave me social mobility, but also a sense of shame. The Guardian, 17 June.
Mabuza E (2017) School governing bodies outraged over plan to strip them of powers. The Times, 23 October.
Nix N (2017) The value of bringing drones to the classroom. The Atlantic, 18 August.
Preston B (2014) State school kids do better at uni. The Conversation, 16 July.
Rost (2016) What is affluenza and are you infected? Rethinking Prosperity, Center for Communication and Civic Engagement, University of Washington. 5 January.
Sayed Y (2016) Social justice starts at school. Mail & Guardian, 16 September.
Williams J, Steen S, Albert T, Dely B, Jacobs B, Nagel C, & Irick A (2016) Academically resilient, low-income students’ perspectives of how school counselors can meet their academic needs. Professional School Counseling, 19(1): 155-165.
Xue J (2016) Is family business good for you? Ten advantages and disadvantages. LinkedIn Pulse, 9 May.
Students want auditing professionals to speak to them directly on the issues
‘This is very serious in more ways than people will realise at first,’ says Issie, a young third-year student at NMMU in George, Western Cape. ‘You have let down the youth as well. It affects how we will be viewed in our jobs one day.’ Over the past few years, South African students (and indeed students worldwide) have shown just how fed up they are with their elders. The handling of responsibility and of funds have been major points of contention. It seems big private sector players can really let students down where it most hurts too.
Initially, KPMG had to take disciplinary action for certain partners’ failure to declare financial interests. Shortly after this news broke, major clients, including Parliament, other government bodies, and Barclays Africa, cancelled contracts with the company. Meanwhile, that infamous name – Gupta – has also crawled out the woodwork, overseas KPMG shareholders are up in arms, and the company apparently isn’t sure whether it will continue to service the SA market in future.
KPMG has thus begun a review of work completed over the last year and a half to identify the extent of the problem and they have promised to address everything. The big auditing group is seeking reform and ‘to put quality and integrity at the heart of the firm’ again. We wish KPMG the best of luck with that, and for the sake of those innocent parties (particularly other auditors and the broader public which KPMG directly and indirectly serves in many ways) it had better be done right and soon.
What is the full extent of the damage caused by those who refuse to follow ethics codes in auditing? Some have said that there is also a certain arrogance and bad attitude about some in the auditing field, as though they believe their feet don’t touch the Earth. But how some have come crashing down recently.
NMMU student Issie said, ‘For us as business students, auditing is the most revered branch of our fields. They are supposed to be our security against fraud, our watchdogs, and they have to be above this… There is a very high code of conduct they must subscribe to, and these scandals throw the profession into disrepute.’
Issie here refers to the Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors (IRBA), which has also been investigating KPMG of late. The IRBA code of conduct is the most important one internationally and SA auditors must subscribe to it.
‘I really want to be an auditor one day,’ Issie said. ‘The ideals and ethics, their work appeals to me. For students like me who want to be auditors, it’s a huge letdown to see that our leaders in the field are corrupt.
‘I think it is a symptom of government corruption that is filtering down. Everyone is getting slack, and I feel that they had better fix this. They had better stick to a high standard or the up-and-coming youth will reject them.
‘Part of the solution needs to be speaking to the youth, to students. We want to be spoken to on how auditors are having success, because I think most are actually doing their best. But how do they resist pressure? Who is in their community of practice that we can rely on? I want to know if it is a stable community, and that we can call on them if there’s reluctance or resistance to transparency. If there isn’t one, then we must have one.’
Issie feels that it is important to instil a sense of respect for the profession among potential auditors beginning at the university level, and an understanding of the gravity of the auditor’s responsibilities.
‘I think, when pressure comes from top levels, from powerful officials and government, it creates fear and distress… Maybe they feel forced into compromises that they make because there are angry officials who’ve got a lot to lose. Some auditors can even be victims here, but they still need to resist, and they’ve got to have support as whistleblowers… I want to know what I must do if I am in such a situation one day.’
Issie concluded that is in the public interest to maintain good relationships with auditors and support those whose assurances can be trusted. The auditing profession will recover from the KPMG and other scandals. Indeed it must, and we must keep faith in those deserving because we need them. The public must compel auditors to stick to the highest standards and support those with a good reputation.
We reached out to The Ethics Institute (TEI) for comment. TEI Editorial and Communications Manager Grace Garland responded, ‘There are two approaches to managing ethics – reactive and proactive. The first approach is appropriate after the fact, so to speak, once a transgression has already taken place.
‘The second approach seeks to pre-empt transgressions by creating awareness of ethics, providing training and making available the facilities necessary to make it easier for people to behave ethically in the workplace (a safe reporting line is a good example of such a facility).
‘The majority of organisations are in the former category: something has gone wrong and they want to make sure it doesn’t happen again. South African organisations are currently going through a fair amount of soul-searching, following recent scandals, so the proactive approach is also featuring quite strongly.’
Garland says that training can have an extremely powerful impact and it is a critical step in the overall governance and management of organisational ethics. However, she warns that it is not the only critical step. There are a number of other components, and leadership commitment is probably foremost.
‘In other words, if an organisation has a senior leader who obviously flouts ethical standards, efforts spent on training staff will have limited impact. This is the “tone at the top” we speak about often. So “training” should not automatically imply general staff training – the leadership at governance and executive level also need to be made ethically aware and must demonstrate their commitment to good conduct. Actions speak louder than words.’
Considering Garland and Issie’s views, it is strongly recommended that auditors who are leaders in the profession, besides displaying trustworthiness and strictly managing ethics, also get out there and speak to students, reassuring and educating them on the issues. This should be considered a key part of the auditing profession’s response to the recent scandals.
Many people feel that gender relations is an awkward topic they would rather ignore. ‘Silent sexism’ is thus an ingrained part of certain cultures, including corporate cultures. Here we examine the gender status quo, why gender is relevant in corporate training, and how it can be approached to build healthy workplace relationships. Hollywood and other industries have come under scrutiny after recent outpourings of sexual assault allegations against prominent individuals. That abused women are breaking the silence against powerful men has been named the ‘Weinstein Effect’, after an alleged sex pest accused by Angelina Jolie and over 140 other women. Such industry earthquakes have radically changed people’s views and forever sullied reputations. Abusers have lost work, the public’s favourable opinion and their families.
Sexism is something of a conundrum as it still appears to be widely tolerated, as is apparent in the election of the current US president whose shady past did not affect his popularity. Nevertheless, that some people permit it does not change the fact that it is wrong and that it causes untold torment to victims. Some cultures and traditions are sexist, but these are unacceptable and harmful in the workplace, interfering with Organisational harmony and leading to staff attrition. The only way to safeguard against sexism is through open dialogue. Gender sensitisation is part of diversity training and is aimed at closing gender gaps. Striving for mutual understanding in workplace relations is a crucial part of this. Fortunately, sensitisation can be taught in the training space. For example, qualified facilitators can draw out individual views and concerns of members of a new team, establishing a good foundation for future interactions. Hypothetical examples and role play can also be used to teach acceptable behaviour successfully.
Sakhumzi Mfecane, Professor of Anthropology at UWC, reveals eye-opening facts about gender relationships. Prof. Mfecane is an expert on masculinities who has studied men in the African context for years. He explained that there is a misunderstanding of what feminism really is: ‘Feminism has done more than any other paradigm to enlighten us about the society in which we live, which is not only gender-unequal, but in terms of race and class as well.’ The idea that feminists hate men is based on a misunderstanding. Compounding this is the lack of attention paid to sexism. When women try to call attention to it, it is easy for others to dismiss it, saying, for example, that the woman simply hates men, is overreacting, and that the problem is not that serious. The problem is serious, however, because there is no woman who can say they have not experienced gender discrimination and/or one or more forms of gender-based abuse. One only needs to speak to them in a way that makes them feel safe to disclose their experiences, or to look at movements such as #MeToo, to see that this is true. In keeping Devan Moonsamy CEO if The ICHAF Training Institute with what feminism really is, it certainly goes both ways, and men should not be unduly pressured or abused either. Thus, everyone needs to be trained on gender dynamics, particularly managers who can, in turn, foster a culture conducive to the success and growth of all.
Prof. Mfecane further said, ‘Feminism talks about bringing about a society where we are all treated for who we are and not our gender.’ Everyone wishes to be fairly treated. Yet it is often not the case, more so for women. Feminism addresses the needs of communities and individuals, including the poor and other marginalised groups – highly relevant for CSR. We can learn much from feminism about how to train men and women from various contexts. All employees can be trained to behave well from the start of their employment term. It is essential that employees, especially women, feel safer and free to advance in their careers. Likewise, employees can thrive in their careers by learning what is acceptable behaviour, rather than committing offences in the midst of respected companies.
Establishing ground rules and conducting group training early on is highly effective in preventing sexism. Prudent executives can put in place safeguards, for example, by instructing employees that sexual advances should not occur at work. As part of its training programmes, ICHAF offers gender sensitisation for organisations. ICHAF programmes foster mutual understanding among employees and seek to solve the problem of sexism by establishing what behaviour is expected in the professional environment.
Why train on diversity specifically?
This article looks at why diversity training programmes are so crucial.
Business places are the context of ongoing racial and other forms of diversity-related tension. At the interpersonal level, colleagues struggle to find the words to discuss latent tension among themselves. Tension goes unaddressed until it boils over into petty or serious arguments – both with highly destructive outcomes. Deep hurt is felt by those on the receiving end of prejudice, and valuable reputations are damaged.
Transformation – which should benefit everyone and promote diversity – is mostly ignored by corporates. There seems to be a belief that these problems will solve themselves eventually when we are somehow “ready” for transformation. Examining this belief, however, quickly shows that it is incorrect. We must actively undertake the transformation process as groups and individuals because the tension will certainly not resolve itself. A major obstacle here is that businesses don’t view transformation as their responsibility. Generally, they avoid addressing interpersonal problems, racially related or otherwise.
Nevertheless, diversity problems are systemic social issues which corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts ought to be addressing. Businesses are ideally positioned to tackle them and make radical changes through training and sensitisation initiatives. The fact is that companies have always had the resources and capacity to effectively mitigate such problems before they even began to take root. Now we have the democracy and legislation to support this. Why wait any longer to start the healing process which will benefit all our relationships and networks?
Admittedly, addressing contentious issues at work is awkward. People rather vent to their families and friends, deepening existing community divisions. Constructive diversity discussions remain rare. A neutral, qualified third party is indispensable here. Good training companies show people how to manage diversity to benefit individual relationships, business performance as well as the broader community. Training officers guide and promote constructive dialogue in a respectful manner and in line with relevant policies.
To fulfil their leadership responsibilities, CEOs and senior management in general must be change makers, charting the way forward in social revitalisation. Transformation starts with strong leaders taking a stand on behalf of communities. Business leaders making wise training and CSR investments will make a massive impact. There is no point in wishing for a better South Africa when CEOs, who wield considerable power in society, are not determined to ensure diversity training happens.
To address the diversity problem, we have to speak to individuals’ perceptions of what diversity is. In the training environment, we must dig deeper, appealing to each learner in order to change attitudes and behaviours around race and cohesiveness. The ICHAF Diversity Programme uses this approach, following a carefully designed method to help businesses and South Africans individually. Our formula allows people to talk about issues openly and in depth. More importantly, it ensures they return to work (and the community) with new skills and the ability to implement them for positive change.
People living with disabilities face many challenges in finding work and in training as well, particularly regarding access. This is often as a result of misconceptions about disabilities. There are many types of disabilities, but most do not prevent a person from taking up employment, and there are ways to get around the obstacles associated with disabilities.
A disability is something that prevents a person from doing something/s or functioning in the usual way that other people do. One may often find that people with disabilities (PWDs) learn to work around their disability, and it need not prevent them from entering the workplace provided they have opportunities and are not discriminated against.
The SADC nations have collaboratively developed the Southern Africa Inclusive Education Strategy 2017-2021 (SAIES) for ensuring disabled children’s access to the education system. This is great news because, in the future, it will translate into adults with disabilities being better educated and more active in the economy. However, there are currently many adults with disabilities who are ready and able to enter learning and workplaces, but they do not get the chance. The SAIES prioritises inclusive quality education. It was developed directly as a result of concerns over research showing that it is economically irrational not to invest in educating PWDs and not to employ them.
The challenges that a person faces should never prevent them from creating value in the way they can. It is critical for individual wellbeing as well as society’s wellbeing. We must never think that PWDs are incapable or helpless. Instead, we must adopt the attitude that PWDs, like everyone else, need employment opportunities and support.
A growing number of companies offer learnerships to PWDs, which can be a highly successful means of ensuring their access to employment and financial security. Many PWDs struggle to secure permanent work, but accredited training providers are available to upskill and ensure workplace readiness for PWDs.
A number of South African training providers, such as ICHAF Training Institute, take a particular interest in PWDs, striving to empower individuals by matching them with prospective employers who are looking for candidates for learnerships. There are also dedicated employment agencies and NPOs to assist companies in recruiting PWDs.
Considering South Africa’s skills shortage and the competitive marketplace, employers and government organisations cannot afford to leave out the disabled community. In fact, the cost of training and employing PWDs is far less than the cost of leaving them in a dependant or vulnerable position.
Training PWDs and employing them have many more benefits than some would realise. These benefits include a healthy corporate culture and CSR portfolio, improved morale, reliable employees with a better retention rate, increased diversity, and improved B-BBEE score. In the workplace, the only disadvantage is in failing to train and employ PWDs. With this in mind, some training companies ensure their courses and qualifications are suited to PWDs’ specific needs.
Depending on the type of disability, it is possible for PWDs to do much the same type of work as others. All types of office work may be open to them as well as careers in creative and manufacturing industries, in consulting and advisory capacities on various issues (including in relation to disabilities), and in helping others with disabilities through awareness-raising projects and other initiatives. Some also become athletes and motivational speakers. There are many more possible occupations for PWDs, depending on abilities and skills, but mostly on career aspirations, because abilities and skills can be developed.
PWDs are encouraged to upload their details and CVs to the ICHAF database, a service available on the website. The database is used to match individuals with prospective employers who are recruiting candidates from among PWDs for learnerships.
Powerful messages are being sent about the reality of the condition, conscientising people, and making a real difference in fighting prejudices
People who have the condition albinism have a complete or partial absence of skin, hair and eye pigment. It is considered a disability because of how it affects the person’s health. In Africa, people with albinism are subject to very poor treatment including discrimination and worse in some cases.
There still exists a strong feeling among many today that lighter skin is better. This is very sad, and it’s somewhat surprising then that people with albinism are marginalised in African society. South Africans have been guilty of colour discrimination. We are no stranger to the problem. In the case of albinism among African people, they are often rejected, poorly treated in school and the community, and their families even fear for the person’s life.
Just this year, a sangoma was charged with the kidnap and murder of two children with albinism. Shockingly, their bodies were to be used for muthi. The sangoma has been labelled a fraud and not a real practitioner of traditional African medicine and healing. Sangomas have struggled with a bad reputation because of those who use unethical and criminal methods. Most sangomas don’t do such things though.
Government and sangomas themselves are trying to address these problems, maintain professionalism, and fight criminal elements. Awareness raising about the facts of albinism is critical, but there has been staunch opposition. It’s quite frightening to experience this first-hand, as I have in trying to address sangomas on the issue recently.
Many also still believe that people with albinism and their families are bad luck or bewitched. People with albinism and other disabilities are often kept hidden away because their families are afraid. This is a problem in communities where they are thus not able to leave home, even to attend school, and they are often neglected in other ways too.
Emalahleni community outraged by the murder of children with albinism
However, in the murder cases mentioned above, the community was infuriated. They protested outside the court, and they wanted to deal with the accused sangoma themselves. The crowd was so angry that they wanted him dead, and police had to use rubber bullets to disperse them. It seems that some communities have no tolerance for such crimes against children, regardless of the disability the victims had.
Discrimination can start from birth for an African person with albinism. It is vital that we urge duty bearers to address the problem as comprehensively as possible. Education initiatives are being conducted, but there is ongoing resistance. People are still convinced that albinism is not a medical condition needing to be managed, but that it somehow warrants discrimination and maltreatment. If they attend school, it can be a very traumatic experience for a child with albinism, and it is fraught with challenges, including that they cannot spend much time outside, and that they are taunted and ridiculed by other children.
Media partners with activists to fight prejudices
What is really great to see is that people with albinism are taking matters into their own hands and serving as activists to educate others and challenge prejudices. The African media has embraced people with albinism in recent years, especially in recognising their beauty. This may seem superficial, but the main site of contention in relation to many prejudices is the external. Certainly, the fashion world – where people with the condition are now sought after – can be shallow, but it is really making a difference in people’s views, even by the mere fact of drawing attention to them and thus valuing their appearance.
Modelling is a prestigious occupation which focusses heavily on one’s looks. Thando Hopa is a South African model with albinism who is making waves worldwide. She has modelled for skincare brand Vichy, and Audi no less to promote their vehicles. She first appeared in Marie Claire in 2012, then in Forbes Life Africa in 2013. She has had a busy career as a model. Last year she was featured on the cover of Marie Claire, and she is also in the 2018 Pirelli calendar.
While this is awesome, one wonders why it hasn’t happened sooner. The truth is that people with albinism and other disabilities have been so marginalised, even to the point where they fear leaving their home. Their families fear for their safety or are embarrassed. They may thus tend not to encourage the person to have a career, certainly not one in which they are exposed, such as in modelling. It seems that Thando Hopa has overcome these challenges, however, and family support is one of the factors in her success.
Thando isn’t just a pretty face; she’s a qualified lawyer. Modelling is her part-time occupation, which she is using to conscientising people about albinism. Seeing Thando on the cover of a major fashion magazine and in ads for Audi does make a big impression, especially on the youth. Fashion houses and magazines are the authors of many people’s views on all manner of topics.
Thando’s beauty shone from the inside out on the newsstands of thousands of shops visited by South Africans on a weekly basis. The power of this cannot be overemphasised. Even those who are prejudiced and who don’t read magazines, or hardly go online were confronted by the cover image. Marie Claire called this 2017 issue “The August Power Issue” with the tagline “Meet South Africa’s incredible future shapers”. Her being on Marie Claire – with her gorgeous blonde ‘fro, little black dress, and XL WAIF earrings – was not easily ignored when one passed the newsstand. She really stood out, and that sent a potent message to South Africans everywhere.
Thando isn’t the only model or professional with albinism shaking things up. South African Refilwe Modiselle is said to be the country’s first female runway model with albinism. Supermodel Shaun Ross from the US has appeared in two Beyoncé music videos.
Let’s keep spreading positive, truthful messages about albinism, be aware of their safety and how they are treated in schools and communities, and support artists and activists with the condition. We can overcome stigmas surrounding disabilities and integrate everyone into a happier, more united society. After all, disabilities need not keep us down; it’s how we react to them that matters.
Something which comes up during my diversity training sessions, and frequently in discussions among people of colour is the perception that white people are invariably racist. Some believe that Afrikaans white people are worse than the English-speakers. It would seem that this perception is based on how black people are treated. Just a look, just one single look, is often all it takes to send a clear message about how one is perceived. Just one look can cause so much pain and be highly offensive. This is to say nothing of gestures, speech and other actions. Racism can go in different directions, but people of colour are indeed often on the receiving end (Mabuza, 2017).
However, I feel that perception and reality are not necessarily the same. It would be naïve to think that everything white people say and do in relation to others is racially motivated, but racism happens often enough for many South Africans to feel that way. So what is really happening in white culture? Whatever it is, at least some of it is offensive to people of colour. Are they all either outright or closeted racists? The answer is certainly no, and we will look at evidence for this.
What we can affirmatively say is that all white people, often from a young age, are exposed to racist and biased views from parents, schoolmates, friends, colleagues, etc. What they do with these opinions is up to them. Upbringing determines much of our behaviour, but when we come of age, we are able to make up our own minds about various issues. It has been pointed out that, for example, the rape of women and children is not something the victims can bring an end to. It is up to men, as a group and as individuals, to police and correct one another so that women and children begin to feel safe around men, and so that we reach a place where men no longer feel they have to jump through hoops to secure a date.
So too with white people, it is up to them to apply positive peer pressure on one another to refrain from and reject racist behaviour, speech and thoughts. It is up to white parents to choose to raise their children in a non-racist way and ensure they are socialised with other children in a healthy way. These aren’t the only means to overcome racism, but they could be the most effective. It seems strange, but there’s sometimes little we can do to end problems that affect us so much as rape culture and racism. The resultant feelings of powerlessness are so frustrating.
While not all whites are racist, all of them have a choice in this regard. Some expressed that choice in a national whites-only referendum, something people seem to have forgotten about. It is sometimes said that white youths are less racist, and they may be the most likely to correct others on the issue.
Nevertheless, in March 1992, ex-President FW de Klerk announced the results of the vote: 68.6% of whites voted in favour of reform. South African History Online (2015) explains, ‘Surprisingly, the majority of Afrikaans-speaking Whites gave their approval… The results of the referendum were hailed worldwide and signalled the end of Apartheid… President of Nigeria and chairman of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), Ibrahim Babangita sent his congratulations on behalf of the people of Africa.’ This referendum is still comparatively one of the best voter turnouts we have ever had in South Africa.
Based on this evidence, we can certainly say that it is not only white youths of today who are glad Apartheid is over. Sometimes it is the quiet people among us, those who seem to make no waves or get involved in political circuses, whose views really should count the most, but they don’t get heard. Why are we so obsessed with the Andre Slades and Vicki Mombergs of this world? It’s true that what such people do is terrible, they are not role models for anyone, and we don’t excuse such racism. But does the sincere, older Afrikaans person – who treats everyone fairly, and who quietly cast their vote according to their conscience in 1992 – not count because they don’t make headlines? There are more of the latter and fewer of the former than we think.
Recently, South Africa’s Institute of Race Relations commissioned a study which found that ‘72% of South Africans reported no personal experience of racism in their daily lives’ (Mabuza, 2017). These results are better than many would assume. This improved situation is partly due to white people’s behaviour, their good behaviour.
Ferial Haffajee’s 2015 book entitled What if there were no whites in South Africa? delves into this topic in considerable detail and she offers a variety of views. One of the critical points she makes is that we all need to be willing to see the meaningful transformation that is happening in our country. There is documented proof of progress, as Haffajee discusses, but we tend to focus so much on the negatives. Racism grabs headlines more often than successful integration. Will the latter ever find its rightful place in the public consciousness?
As I am writing this article, across the country, people of all kinds are getting along; people are making friends and cooperating. Not always because they have something to gain, but because it’s the decent thing to do. When do we take time to contemplate this? Most South Africans, I firmly believe, want to get along and they want to end discrimination. What we must do to reach this goal is to find the courage to speak up when racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of prejudice rear their ugly heads. We must strive to correct ourselves and those in our peer groups who we can positively influence.
In conclusion, I will quote Haffajee (2015) who ties this issue in well with what is happening in our professional lives: ‘It is in workplaces where racial bumper cars play out and crash into wider society, bringing all their pains with them. It is here that impatient black aspiration meets dogged white self-protection, where our pain lies and where leadership does not lie.’
Haffajee F (2015) What if there were no whites in South Africa? Johannesburg: Pan MacMillan.
Mabuza E (2017) No racism in daily lives of seven in 10 South Africans, survey finds. Business Day, 7 February.
South African History Online (2015) President F.W. de Klerk announces Whites-only referendum results. From: http://www.sahistory.org.za/dated-event/president-fw-de-klerk-announces-whites-only-referendum-results