Durban Against Racism
Young People’s Press had a correspondent reporting from the UN World Conference Against Racism Conference in Durban, South Africa. This is her story.
I’m in South Africa, almost safe and somewhat sound. I arrived in Durban yesterday, just before noon, took the shuttle bus and was dropped off right in front of my hostel. The hostel is a bit shoddy and pungent with the smells of maleness. And though it is located close to where the UN World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) and Youth Summit will take place, it is not situated in a particularly safe area.
I read an article defining “race” published in a local paper, The Mercury. Included were ridiculous pictures, depicting the nine “geographical races.” The Mercury’s view of the “typical” representatives for each race included fierce looking Pigmies for the Australian race, Tibetan monks for the Asian race, some guy who looked Indonesian with a hand painted on his face for the Aboriginal race and – get this – Claudia Schiffer, German supermodel extraordinaire for the European race. Funny.
With earnest feeling, South Africans of Colour tell me that when in the face of a White person, they instantly assume their diminution. Their sense of Self shirks and shrinks. They become very small. But, like a twirl on one foot, as not to dwell on darker times, they change the subject and speak about “living altogether” and how “we are now free to live anywhere we choose.”
There are signs to welcome the delegates. One billboard has the words, “You’re not a Racist…Right?” written in a slender, grey type…non-obtrusive at first glance but in effect, piquing. Each backpacker I spoke to, who saw the sign on the way into town remembered it. I wonder who else did.
The shutters were clicking and the flashes popping when Clayton Peters, the Communications Manager of the WCAR Youth Summit, made his announcement. “The International Jewish Student delegation…have boycotted the Youth Summit, claiming it is a farce, anti-Zionist and anti-Semitist.”
The Youth Summit was about talking amongst ourselves. Youth to youth, young person to young person. We are malleable and can still muster the effort to see ourselves as human. Our ability to do this was one of the principal reasons why we were included.
Having the conviction of “being right,” coupled with refusing to see any other viewpoint, has shown itself to be the greatest danger threatening our existence.
Youth delegates are asking whether the UN is committed to officially recognizing the participation of young people when the World Conference is over. Youth members dissatisfied with the leadership of the IYC are planning to release a statement requesting the UN to form a Youth Body. The youth representatives want to push this demand…to ensure their continued participation in future intergovernmental processes and as a means to establish an International Youth Network that will be set-up as a post-WCAR program to combat racism.
Dr. Hedy Fry, Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and Status of Women, spearheaded the Youth Summit at the WCAR and ensured that Canadian youth played a significant role in it.
I asked her what the government’s next step to ensure youth continues to be part of governmental processes will be. “I think one of the things I would like to do is bring youth who are here (at the WCAR) together and do a debrief,” she said. “Talk about what happened, what were the resolutions, what were the strategies. We feel that youth should be the most important people in the March 21st (International Day for the Elimination of Racism) initiative because they have the ability to make the changes that we need. And many of our people raising awareness and who are in education are wearing old hats. The need for youth at present and to build the future is very, very important.”
I surfed the National Post and Globe and Mail websites and was disappointed with the inflammatory reporting. Until this morning, issues pertaining to anti-Israeli, anti-Jewish sentiment on the ground were not as virulent or as wide spread as the picture drawn in print by mainstream Canadian journalists. Most briefings I have attended and the feedback I received from Canadian and American NGO representatives show that delegates in general are sympathetic to all of the victims who have suffered because of the fighting between Israelis and Palestinians.
There are status quo interests that will be seriously, if not severely, threatened once the Conference is over and once a UN Declaration and Plan of Action is signed. When the document is finalized, people of the world who experience discrimination/racism will have a legal framework – within which to seek redress – should their own governments fail to recognize their plea. Can you imagine what this means to governments who are currently implementing xenophobic legislation against minorities in their countries?
My paranoia of the City Centre has dissipated. Meeting more locals and having a chance to talk with them about their life and how they see themselves as South African people of the post-apartheid era is making me see Coloured, White and Black people as people rather than victims of racism. The impression is, slowly, the crossing over of Whites, Blacks and Coloured people across quarters that was once prescribed as forbidden is changing the face of the City Centre.
I’m sitting on a sand dune on North Beach, Durban looking across the wide, heaving ocean. The North beach sits alongside Marine Parade Road, known for its tourist-friendly boardwalks and grand-styled hotels. I look around me, expecting to see a few White people taking an afternoon stroll, but there are only young Black children running around and other Coloured people sitting at the beachfront cafes, enjoying the fresh sea air.