This past month has been an incredibly busy time at the Cape Board, but one that has allowed our team time to reflect deeply.
As your Chronicle arrives you will have either voted or be thinking of whom to vote for in our sixth democratic election. Our Great Cape Debate, televised on eNCA on 14 April, was an opportunity for us to explore the political landscape. As South Africans there is no doubt we have a lot on the table, and while we face challenges we can also celebrate some blessings too. Whatever the result, our role as Jews is to continue to play a positive role in shaping and guiding this young democracy, warts and all.
On 7 April I was privileged to attend the ceremony to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda. One million people were killed in 100 days — an unbelievable ten thousand people a day — killed by their neighbours, their colleagues, their friends, killed because of an avalanche of hate speech launched by the media, the politicians even, regrettably, by the church. Hate crimes start with words.
And the world did nothing.
And we in South African were too caught up in the excitement of our first democratic election that was taking place at the same time.
And now, 25 years later, we are faced with another election, and once more hate speech is being used as a vote-catching tool and nothing is being done.
What are we to think of remarks like Malema’s: “We are not calling for the slaughtering of white people, at least for now.” And Mngxitama’s threat to “kill five white people for every black person killed, their children, their women, anything that we find on our way…”
We have seen how hate speech has led to xenophobic violence and persecution in our own country.
Where are the words of Mandela “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion? People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite”.
At the event, whose theme was Remember, Unite and Renew, the Rwandan High Commissioner Vincent Karega told us that Rwandans were now being taught that they were not Hutus, Tutsis or Twa, but Rwandans, and the youth were challenged to figure out what their role was in rebuilding the country. If you can learn to hate, you can learn to love.
So too in South Africa. we must acknowledge that we are all South Africans and we must ask what our role in rebuilding this country can be. We must also remember the past and honour those who died to bring about the new South Africa. We must unite as South Africans with shared human values.
I came away humbled at the horrors that Rwanda had gone through and their efforts at renewal. I came away with strength that Rwanda had taken a committed stand against hate.
May our political parties focus on uniting and renewing the country, on building a country where we all have a place under the sun and not on teaching racist rhetoric in the coming elections.
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