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Hosted by Jimmy Ramokgopa, March 01, 2020

01 March  2020 - Jimmy Ramokgopa

Adam Catzavelos’s judgement was handed over, where he was given a fine of R50000 or 2 years behind bars, both of which were suspended for 5 years provided that he doesn’t find himself charged with crimen injuria during this time. He was charged for using the k-word in a viral video. For those of you from outside of South Africa, the k-word is like the American n-word. The full word is “kaffir.”

It has been quite a long case, which has sparked conversations about how we deal with racism in South Africa. Should racism be criminalised? Should there be standard sentences for racial altercations? And if so, why? All of this will be discussed in today’s Politricks SA podcast.

There’s no doubt that the k-word carries a lot of emotions, particularly because of Apartheid and the manner in which it was used to strip people of their dignity. It remains a trigger-word to many black South Africans, justifiably so. But how do we react to it? Should we react to it? And if we do react, what are the expected outcomes?

There’s a long-standing argument about the American n-word. Many people say that black Americans have taken ownership of the word, and in so doing, diminished its power.

But I don’t agree with that. The n-word still has a lot of power and carries a lot of emotions. If a white person were to use the word, you would see how much power it actually carries. So, black Americans would actually be fooling themselves if they believed that they have diminished the n-word’s power by merely allowing black people to use it. It’s all about the power behind that word and partially about the amount of attention given to it.

There are many similarities between the n-word and the k-word. The real difference is that, in South Africa, we are debating whether the use of the word by other races should be a criminal offence or not. South Africa is contemplating the formal criminalisation of racism. This is where my challenge is.

I do understand the violent nature of racism and how it remains a major factor of descrimination and exclusion, but I doubt that making it a criminal offence is the best approach.

Based on the historic context of South Africa, black people are less likely to be racist. Racism isn’t about the mere utterance of “bad words,” it’s a systematic issue. It goes beyond the mere dislike of a particular race. So, it means that white people are more likely to be charged with racism, which would mean that the criminalisation of racism is actually a target to white people. It would literally be a crime designed specifically for a particular race, of which, as a matter of principle, I do not agree with.

The fact that racism remains a serious problem in our country is not up for debate, but the way in which we deal with it requires thinking that’s free of emotional influence. As much as we need to address racists, we also need to address the growing racial intolerance from other races. So, perhaps, we should criminalise racial intolerance instead of racism per se. That way, any person who is found to be hampering social cohesion would be arrested or fined, which would not be exclusive to any particular race. And that, on a principle point of view, would be more acceptable.

So if we are to criminalise anything, let us criminalise racial intolerance. This will send a strong message to anyone with intentions of driving social divisions, regardless of the colour of their skin.

With that said, in South Africa, there is a similar derogatory term that was used on Indian people. The word is “coolie.” Strangely, this word is still used by many black South Africans, but pronounced as “makula”. Indian people don’t give the word as much attention. In fact, it’s as if it doesn’t bother them at all. Of course, they do understand that it is a derogatory term, but they do not give it as much airtime nor do they hold public outrage over the use of the word. Somehow, that has truly diminished the power of the word. I guess this leaves us with something to think about.

-     Jimmy Ramokgopa (@JimmyRamokgopa)




Jimmy Ramokgopa

BSc. Engineering (Civil) - University of the Witwatersrand

Businessman - socio-economic and political commentator

Activist - The Collab Movement 


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