How engaged are you with the burning issues that are facing your country?

My home country, South Africa, is well into its young adulthood in terms of the “starting over” that many thought 1994 was all about. But for so many years the illusion of the magical rainbow nation allowed so many people to sit back and relax because “Apartheid is dead and can’t we all just be friends?”

Many others, however, quickly realised that although the law had changed, it was going to take a lot longer to affect the attitudes of the people.

In the past year, starting with “Rhodes Must Fall” and then “Fees Must Fall” some momentum started being noticed. As this year began, a racist outburst by Penny Sparrow, an estate agent, became a much spoken about thing.


More recently the horrendous utterings of Matthew Theunnissen and the rollercoaster that was the Ntokozo Qwabe/ Ashleigh Schultz incident (the “return our land tip” followed by tears followed by bragging followed by R200 000 and climbing “Pay back the [tip] money”) splashed South African polarisation across the social media platforms and into our living rooms and even our wallets.

Suddenly we were engaging, a little more deeply and personally and in some cases (albeit possibly very misguided ones) in a more invested way.

The fact that we are engaging more is incredible, but it is important that South Africans from all walks of life – and people all around the world – find creative and effective ways of doing this in a way that helps us step towards each other.

Here are three positive ways of engagement that might help us:

1. Do some research: This is specifically aimed at other white people. We often expect people of colour to have to educate us on how not to be racist in our words and actions, when they are so tired of having to face racism and the effects of it every single day. One thing we can do is to read up on the history of our country from a point of view different to that which we were raised on.

Robert Sobukwe’s How can man die better? should be compulsory reading and there are a host of other helpful books. I have just started reading Justice Malala’s We have now begun our descent: How to stop South Africa losing its way and am finding it incredibly insightful.

2. Embrace a #NotOnOurWatch approach to racism at work, at home and wherever you are. When you see or hear someone saying or doing something overtly or subtly racist, step in gently but firmly and say, “That is not okay!” The more of us who start doing this consistently the more we will stamp out behaviour and activities which for many people have become the norm.

These tend to not go well (who likes to be called on their racism?) but I really believe the more often that more of us step in, call it and let people know that it’s not acceptable, the easier it will become for everyone.

3. Create spaces for safe conversation: My wife and I host what we call Deep Dive Conversation Dinners which are opportunities for diverse friends to eat together and focus on a particular topic or issue for a decent amount of hours. But it doesn’t have to be so formal. Invite a group of friends around for a meal and ask them what they think about the latest race incident that is being shared on social media or their ideas on white privilege or reconciliation. Notice we look at creating a safe space and not necessarily one that is comfortable, not awkward, and conflict free.

Which of these things is something that you have already tried or are doing? What positive stories do you have to share with us to encourage us as we give them a try?