Anyone still think race doesn't matter in SA?

These workers in a Chinese-owned factory in Newcastle, KZN, show that race matters in SA's labour market.
These workers in a Chinese-owned factory in Newcastle, KZN, show that race matters in SA's labour market.
Image: Jackie Clausen

SA is a strange nation of dishonest people. We look each other in the eye and try to convince one another not to see what we see.

The issue we lie about the most is race. There are even organisations - such as the Institute of Race Relations - whose main business is to convince society that race does not matter.

The interesting thing about our discourse on race is that the people who deny it are those who have benefited from it, the same people who continue to benefit from it today.

When it was convenient, the same beneficiaries of race invested time and intellectual energy propounding all manner of pseudo-theories to justify why a white man is "naturally" superior to a black man.

It is true that Francis Galton's eugenics theory has been biologically discredited, but it is not true to suggest that race does not matter sociologically.

In SA race is not an ideology, it is a practical reality. It is not a perverted idea in the twisted mind of a jaundiced observer, it is a lived experience.

Go to an upmarket restaurant in Cape Town and you will find white people dining, served by black people. Indeed, the diners don't see race.

If you drive on the highway and see a farm, the name written on the gate will most likely be Joubert, Jones or Koekemoer - not Mkhize.

A big factory in SA says a lot about race. When you see a big plant, you know for sure that the guy who sits in the airconditioned office is not dark-skinned.

Whenever mineworkers are trapped underground somewhere, all honest South Africans know the colour of the people down there.

A meeting with a CEO in SA is a meeting with race. When you enter such an office, you already know the skin colour of the person who will make coffee for you, and indeed the complexion of the boss.

Even the offices of the Institute of Race Relations are cleaned by cleaners of a particular race. The theorist in that organisation who earns a salary from arguing that race does not matter knows that his toilet will never be cleaned by white hands.

When you drive on the N2 from the airport to Cape Town and you see shacks on the side of the road, the skin colour of the people who live there is known to you - even if you did not see the people.

Even the most ignorant ruralitarian can accurately guess the skin colour of the pilot whenever a small aeroplane flies above a remote village.

When first-year students enter the classroom for the first time at the University of Stellenbosch, they would be shocked to find a dark-skinned professor of mathematics standing in front.

Even black students at the University of Zululand don't expect their geology textbook to be written by Prof Khoza.

If there is a national water crisis, we all know the skin colour of the minister of water affairs.

We also know that the expert who will educate the public on radio about water will invariably be white.

Is there anyone who (except those bespectacled researchers of the Institute of Race Relations) still thinks that race does not matter in SA?

The problem with our daily ideological debates is that those who lead them seek to divert our attention from the truth. The point is to conceal, not to eliminate.

Carl Popper was right to say that all philosophical questions arise from practical problems. What he did not say is that all philosophical problems are soluble in practice. This is precisely the wisdom Kant explicated in his Critique of Pure Reason.

It does not matter how high in the sky those who deny the importance of race in SA fly, practical life will expose their mendacity the moment they touch ground.

Race in our country matters - a great deal.