From Zebra Nation to Rainbow Nation: A Conference on Minority rights in South Africa
On 21 November 2013, the conference ‘Minority rights, the International and South African Constitutional Perspective’ was held in the South African parliament in Cape town. Organized by UNPO and the Freedom Front Plus, the conference saw representatives from various minorities in South Africa and abroad coming together to discuss the problems that they face and how they can address their most pressing issues. The contributions to the conference were aimed at moving away from conflict and polarization and the dichotomy of black versus non-black and instead come to a framework of cooperation and participation to recognize all the voices in present day South Africa. Far too often the existence of minorities is denied and the ability for them to participate in the political debate minimized. This fact denies South Africa the ability to be a true Rainbow nation, which makes present day South Africa look more like a Zebra nation due to the fact that things are only white or black, right or wrong, politically as well as culturally. By including the voices of all South Africa’s minorities in a new constitutional framework it might come to be an example for the world and emerge as a true Rainbow nation.
Dr Pieter Mulder, Freedom Front Plus leader and South African minister, started the conference with noting the urgency of developing and implementing minority rights in modern day South Africa. In reality South Africa is a land made up of minorities who need to co-exist and be able to find agreement amongst each other in a constitutional framework that maximizes everyone’s rights. It is thereby necessary to grant each right to others that you request for yourself.
Representatives from several Khoisan organisations also attended the conference. Mr. Joseph Little expressed his hope that the Khoisan would be attributed their rightful place in South Africa. Other Khoisan representatives also emphasized the fact that the Khoisan are the indigenous people of South Africa. In his speech, Mr Zenzile Khoisan, emphasized the deliberate exclusion of the Khoisan in the negotiations for a new South Africa two decades ago and that the voice of the Khoisan is still being ignored. He made it clear that the Khoisan can no longer be silenced and ignored.
In his speech, the vice-president of the Brown Empowerment Movement, Mr. Peter Marais, appealed the South African government to do away with racial quotas that unfairly disadvantage everyone who is considered to be ‘non-black’. “For 19 years we had a vision of the promised land of milk and honey but 19 years later we drink a bitter wine, which is due to unrealistic expectations, vengeance, reversed racism and corruption.”
Mr. Jeroen Zandberg presented an overview of the historical and present day problems of the Rehoboth Basters, a community that originated in South Africa but migrated to current day Namibia in the 1860’s. The representative explained that the Rehoboth Basters are confronted with land- and language loss, as well as the denial of their existence as a traditional community. Furthermore, he emphasized that the appeal by the Namibian government and others to abolish all traces of Apartheid should not lead to the international community abandoning the right of peoples to exist as a community, whereby diversity should not be confused with Apartheid.
In another contribution Professor Sitwala Imenda explained the situation of the Barotse people living in Zambia and how they face discrimination and persecution by the government. He appealed to the international community to take action to save the people of Barotseland.
The international perspective on minority rights was given by Dr. Danny Titus, advisor to the United Nations. Although there are many international treaties, a great deal of the proposed rights for minorities is as yet unenforceable and the United Nations is currently investigating how to protect these rights more effectively.
Mr. Marino Busdachin, General Secretary of the UNPO, provided the participants of the conference with an insight into the workings of an international organization that tries to support indigenous peoples and minorities in getting their rights addressed internationally. He offered several examples of cases on how certain ideas of federalism might be able to accommodate the rights of minorities.
Dr Christo Landman presented his view on how to implement collective rights within modern-day South Africa. He concluded that the way South Africa functions is the result of a negotiation in the run up to the 1994 elections and that there is now a need to re-negotiate the terms in order to come to a true national unity-in-diversity.
Mr Pieter Vorster, Chairperson of the Afrikaner bond, gave the audience an insight into how the presence of minorities in South Africa is deliberately ignored and called upon all to see the truth even though it might be inconvenient.
At the end of a successful conference Dr. Corné Mulder of the Freedom Front Plus closed the day with a summary of the highlights of the contributions.
A short video clip of the conference can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hv0Ri-5sVSc&feature=youtu.be