Translated by Andreas Boneberg

About Tiisetso Tlelima

Tiisetso Tlelima is a black feminist based in Johannesburg, South Africa. She is a freelance writer and copy editor. She has mostly worked as a digital copywriter, but has also written for TV. She’s a member of Nzinga Collective, a Black Feminist, Black Consciousness and Pan-African group which holds dialogues on African issues.


Brent Meersman, another journalist from South Africa, also commented on the planned legislation. You can find his opinion piece here.

Following Penny Sparrow’s racist utterances which saw her call black people monkeys earlier this year, the African National Congress (ANC) has promised to push for legislation that will criminalise any act that perpetuates racism or glorifies apartheid. This new legislation will ensure that incidents of racism are punishable by imprisonment. Sounds great, right? The Penny Sparrows of this world would be dragged kicking and screaming and thrown in the dungeon for their offensive comments. Black people would feel vindicated and we would be well on the way to reaching racial harmony in Occupied Azania (South Africa), except for the part where the real racists such as Johann Rupert, the Rothschild family and Nicky Oppenheimer continue to loot, plunder, exploit and oppress the Black majority undetected and without any real consequences for their ghastly behaviour.

While interpersonal incidents of racism should not be ignored and should be treated with the disdain they deserve, it would help us to remember that racism is a structural problem. It is ruthless, violent and deadly for Black people and therefore fighting racism should not be reduced to something as banal as racial slurs and insults. What is more racist is that, in 1652, white people of European origin invaded and conquered Azania. They stole land, mineral resources and enslaved Black people. It was a violent, systemic process which forced Black people into subjugation – whipped us into slavery. 

It’s also the ANC’s fault

It’s a bit disingenuous for the ruling party, the ANC, to say that it wants to put legislation in place to fight racism when they have been in power for 22 years but have done nothing to reverse the unequal distribution of wealth which has ensured that white people remain privileged and that their stolen wealth remains untouched. They have the power to end white racism and restore the dignity of Black people by redistributing land, but they have chosen not to.

The ANC government is in cahoots with whiteness and makes sure that Black people remain powerless, oppressed and landless. It has killed Blacks to protect white wealth as in the case of the 34 Marikana miners who were gunned down in 2012 for daring to challenge the exploitation they suffer as a result of white capitalist greed in South Africa’s mines. During 2012/2013 farm workers strikes in De Doorns in the Western Cape, Black people were brutalised and shot with rubber bullets by the police. State violence and militarisation of universities became the norm at the height of #FeesMustFall protests when students were fighting for free education. To put it in a nutshell: It is clear that they are not interested in fighting racism.

During the recent local elections, the ANC’s power seems to be waning slightly, but the electorate has voted for the Democratic Alliance (DA) instead which is no different from the ANC – they’re both neo-liberal and anti-poor so it is unlikely that things will change for the better for Black people under the DA.

 “The legislation would squash any Black resistance.”

Making racist behaviour illegal will in the end be used to further clamp down on Black movements. Any action that is solely for the emancipation of Black people will be seen as racist. Black people will no longer be able to meet by themselves and start movements that fight social injustice unless they allow white membership. The legislation will be used to squash any Black resistance under the banner of “We must seek social justice for all people” when it is in fact it is Black people who are marginalised, oppressed, dispossessed and landless. It will be used to police and silence Black people and give us the illusion that the government is fighting racism by putting a few white individuals in prison, if at all.

Racism is endemic to political institutions

The legislation will be used to punish Black people who fight the system, something which is already happening. The Constitution and institutions such as the Human Rights Commission are being used to suppress black anger. For example, in a recent protest at the University of Witswatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg, Zama Mthunzi, a student activist within #FeesMustFall, walked around campus wearing a t-shirt reading “Fuck White People” – a message expressing legitimate anger against white people and the privilege that they continue to enjoy at the expense of the Black majority. The university subsequently reported him to the Human Rights Commission which then ordered him to apologise to the white community and barred him from ever speaking about racial issues again. Zama was later expelled from the university for a period of one year. His sentence includes a three year suspension and 120 hours of community service. 

After this exclusion from Wits, Zama will find it very hard to get into any institution of higher learning in the country. This is the price he has to pay for standing up to white supremacy. A person like Penny Sparrow might be fired from her job for saying Blacks are monkeys, but it is highly likely she will be hired again somewhere away from the eyes of the media because she is white.