Pity that Mahlatsi confuses IRR with Institute for Justice and Reconciliation

24 February 2020 - 07:27
By Michael Morris

Malaika Mahlatsi writes boldly in "Majority of whites hold same views as De Klerk on apartheid" (SowetanLIVE, 18 February) that "(to) many white South Africans, apartheid was not a crime against humanity" and thus are "resistant to change". Unfortunately, she exposes herself as a peddler of fake news, for her cynical and damaging analysis rests on shocking errors of fact.

With no shortage of confidence, Mahlatsi informs readers: "A few years ago, I attended a round-table organised by the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation. One of the participants at this dialogue was the Institute for Race Relations (sic). Two researchers did a presentation on a study they had done to determine what white South Africans think about race and racism."

But Mahlatsi is mistaken: the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) took no part in any such dialogue, and neither did IRR researchers conduct any such study, or make any such presentation.

Yet she goes on: "One of the key questions asked in a survey was whether they thought apartheid was a crime against humanity. The results were depressing, though not completely shocking. They revealed that an overwhelming majority did not believe apartheid was a crime against humanity.

Of course, research of this nature uses a manageable sample to derive its results. And it may be argued that its size is not enough to arrive at a conclusive determination. But I found it profound, not only because of what it revealed, but because of who had conducted the research."

Here, she not only confirms the sheer sloppiness of her first error, but adds a second, and compounds the sum by an embarrassingly craven observation by which she unwittingly reveals the prejudice that is evidently the puppetmaster of her intellect.

In their acronyms, the IRR and the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) might to a lazy reader seem at least similar. They are, of course, different organisations. And the fact is that the research Mahlatsi refers to was conducted by the IJR, not the IRR.

What comes later, where Mahlatsi thinks she is talking about the "white liberals" of the IRR, is all the more embarrassing, profoundly irrational, and deeply demeaning.

But, first, the facts.

The "study" Mahlatsi is clearly referring to is the "SA Reconciliation Barometer Survey Report" published by the IJR in 2017. It is a solid piece of research which found, among other things, that "most South Africans feel that reconciliation is still needed ... (and that) six in 10 South Africans ... feel that reconciliation ... cannot fully take its course while those who were oppressed under apartheid remain poor".

But what of the question of apartheid having been a "crime against humanity"?

The barometer found that the number of South Africans of all races who agreed that apartheid was a crime against humanity had declined from 86.5% in 2003 to 77.4% in 2017. That is, more than three quarters agreed it was such a crime. Among white South Africans, 70.3% agreed in 2003 that apartheid was a crime against humanity, with the number declining by 2.6 percentage points to 67.7% - a sizeable majority - in 2017.

Much the same pattern reflected black South African opinion, but with agreement with the idea of apartheid being a crime against humanity falling by a full 10 percentage points, from 88.9 in 2003 to 78.9% in 2017.

Thus, had she been paying attention, Mahlatsi might well have written that, "to many black South Africans, apartheid was not a crime against humanity".

The facts show it is Mahlatsi who should be doing the atoning. We would recommend that she consult IRR research that shows that the vast majority of South Africans hold mutually respectful opinions about one another and are not animated by racial hostility.

- Morris is head of the media at the Institute of Race Relations