Discrimination may take many forms, such as race, gender, age, religion, societal, disability and so many other types; societies all over the world are constantly grappling with this grave problem. Even today in SA, our society remains fractured because of the cruel policy of Apartheid; it is and will be your task to undo the harm caused by generations of discrimination. Some other countries experience problems not unlike our country’s … Russia and its Chechens, China and its Uighurs, USA and its Native Americans, Australia and its Aborigines, Rwanda and its Hutu & Tutsis…the list is formidably long.
Discrimination may be very briefly defined as “the unfair treatment of a person or group on the basis of prejudice.” People are pre-judged [in advance] by others before they can be fully understood. Often, discrimination arises because of mutual misunderstanding. Take, for example, the case of the first party of Dutch people arriving in what was to be Cape Town. Having rowed ashore, they were greeted by the people who were indigenous to the Cape. Presumably, the Dutch would have said, “Goede Morge, Junges!” and the Khoisan would have replied, “Click!” Instant mutual misunderstanding! Or take the Romans greeting the Turks with “Sit jucundus tibi dies!” and getting the reply, “Salaam aleikum!” And so out of this initial mutual lack of understanding grew assumptions that the other was foolish, of lesser worth, and therefore could be treated as a servant, slave or lackey; and if one side had technological superiority [firearms etc.], the other side’s fate was pretty well sealed.
Lack of understanding and unwillingness to change the initial perception causes the problem to grow out of control, which can lead to the most ghastly consequences. Hitler’s abuse of Germany occurred in just 12 years, leaving the country ravaged. Australia’s Aboriginal policies took them almost to the brink of extinction; in fact, the last Tasmanian Aborigine died well over 100 years ago. Thankfully, today the Australians have come to understand much better the complexities of Aboriginal society and are, as a result, more compassionate and inclusive of their indigenous people. In Britain, the political party UKIP is the British Nazi Party with a smiley face. In USA, Mr. Trump’s populist rhetoric concerning foreigners, women, Mexicans and immigrants is alarming, to say the least.
South Africa’s wounds are deep and slow to heal; much remains to be done. The harm done by Apartheid’s policies [forced removals, racist labour policies, political discrimination, divide and rule] have severely skewed South Africans’ perception of each other, sowing division and hostility throughout the land. We view each other through stereotypes and generalize about other sectors of society. It’s lazy to do this and tempting to follow a line of thought that requires little effort and which appeals to our baser emotions.
You may ask yourself, “So what can I do about all this?” It’s true that you alone cannot resolve all of South Africa’s problems, but if each one of us plays our part by being courteous and considerate, by recognizing our defective points, re-examining our perceptions and trying to improve, we can make a difference to heal our collective wounds. Here at Northwood, we encourage you to practice the art of mutual respect. The school’s code of chivalry urges on you the virtues of the Knight, which empowers you to take on the challenges of life in school and in society. Amongst other things, chivalry requires you to protect the weak, fight wrong, seek justice, be fair to all people, be generous, honour and respect all women, and to be true, gentle, faithful and brave.
South Africa has many, diverse cultures; why not learn about them, respect and celebrate their virtues. Compassion and consideration for others can do much to bring harmony to our country – and it starts with your determination to free yourself from the chains of discrimination.
Thank you for your attention.