College of Humanities

From left: Professors Nirmala Gopal, Jeremy Seekings, and Siphamandla Zondi, Dr Ela Gandhi and Pastor Michelle Tryon
From left: Professors Nirmala Gopal, Jeremy Seekings, and Siphamandla Zondi, Dr Ela Gandhi and Pastor Michelle Tryon

Webinar tackles Racial Discrimination as a covert disrupter of Social Cohesion

The College of Humanities recently hosted a webinar on Racial Discrimination: A covert disrupter of Social Cohesion as part of the College’s Transformation and Leadership Lecture Series. 

It featured Professor Jeremy Seekings (University of Cape Town), Professor Siphamandla Zondi (University of Pretoria), Dr Ela Gandhi (Gandhi Development Trust) and Pastor Michelle Tryon (Destiny Fulfilled Ministry) and was chaired by Professor Nirmala Gopal (UKZN).

Seekings discussed ‘what social scientists can contribute to our understanding of the dynamics of racialised inequality and the role that racial identification or labelling, racism and racial discrimination play in this.’ He used research survey data, including survey experiments and vignettes, as well as qualitative research to underpin his presentation.  Seekings further discussed the meaning of ‘structural racism’ in the context of contemporary South Africa.

Gandhi spoke from an activist’s point of view on racism as learned behaviour, with an emphasis on racialism, as opposed to racism. She looked into how apartheid led to a learned approach to racism that targeted racial identity, segregation and division. She also addressed the issue of using race to draw conclusions in science, which she regards as ‘lazy science’. For her, this method usually disguises other reasons that are not race related.

Gandhi pointed out that, ‘The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the gross inequality and unequal access to resources that South Africans are faced with and we are consequently observing the different patterns of racism.’ She advised that, ‘that we need to unlearn racism in order to move forward as a country.’

In his address, Zondi argued that universities should educate for a new social order that encourages behaviour and mind-set change. ‘It should be education for empowerment and not re-indoctrination… borrowed waters do not last. As black people, we need to come to terms with our value as human beings rather than as racial beings.’

He contended that ‘no evidence could be found that the country was either effective or winning in the battle against discrimination. Social cohesion remains elusive.’

Zondi added that using race to solve the problem of race should not be the only factor. ‘We should re-imagine an alternative existence through creative measures and not continue to be trapped in the fiction of race. Re-imagine the new citizen that all of us can fit in without questioning our existence.’

Tryon discussed racial discrimination in the religious context, dovetailing her personal experience of it in the religious sector.  She looked into how definitions lead to racial discrimination as a covert disrupter of social cohesion. She also imparted a few skills one needs to identify these definitions and their impacts on beliefs and values.

Tryon’s parting advice was, ‘We need to be aware of the internal bias, perceptions and beliefs we have where it relates to racial discrimination. We must all explore how we have been impacted by racial discrimination. We need to be willing to suspend our views so we can see and listen to each other, to link into each other and make space for each other to all sit at the same table. Love and forgiveness will be the cornerstone of our way forward.’