(Listen to the actual debate at http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/player/p00x8h4d)

Ikamvanites in Gauteng were invited to take part in the BBC Africa Debate at the University of the Witwatersrand on the 31st of August. The question posed was: South Africa at 18- Does black and white still matter in the rainbow nation? (Unfortunately, due to the nature of the topic and the manner in which BBC radio created the racial references, this article will also be using such terms.)

The debate was hosted by BBC radio presenters, Audrey Brown and Karen Allen, and a panel of speakers selected by BBC in an attempt to represent the “Born Free Generation” as people born on or post 1994. The panel was a strategized mix of Black and White persons from St Benedict’s Private School, Pretoria Boy’s High and Wits Students in an attempt to represent “all” youth. The audience consisted of political party representatives, organisations like Ikamva Youth and academics.

The panellists were divided both racially and with their opinions. However, their opinions were not divided according to race as predicted. Throughout the debate, depending on one’s personal background, circles of influence, experiences and current state of affairs, people felt and saw things differently.

Some youth stated that race does still matter and is still used as a form of identifying and relating to people – finding a commonness (based on cultural, linguistic and socio-economic) amongst a diversified crowd and finding it easier to socialise better with people who have the same social backgrounds. Is this based on the fear of rejection and the need for belonging that most humans feel?  On the other hand, as highlighted by the presenters, race is possibly merely used as a code to cover up other issues, such as how race is experienced on a social level. It was great to see that after the debate, the IkamvaYouth learners, also Born Free, interacted with people outside of their normal circle – spreading their horizons.

Some of the issues raised involved nationalisation,education and poverty. A poll was raised and showed that the majority of the attendees were against nationalisation. In terms of the economy, some ‘Born Free’ learners argued that the need is for South Africa to focus on the mines and entrepreneurs to grow the national economy in order to develop society. The issue of shared wealth was then raised and with this race dimensions came up again. A majority of the audience share the view that the majority of poor people are black because the majority of South Africans are black and it is an underdeveloped country – hence the poverty. However, many still see it as: Black people are poor because they are black and financial status is a  racial issue construed by the past racial injustices.

Most issues that were given attention were national issues. Policies of Apartheid reformation such as Affirmative Action, BEE and the Constitution were brought up and their role in healing the racial divide were questioned. Unemployment and access to equal opportunities is an evident issue that maintains the gap between the rich and poor. With statistics showing that South Africa has overtaken Brazil GINI ratio – wealthiest. White per capita is 8 times more than black per capita.

This shows that real issues facing South Africans are issues of inequality based on many issues with race only being a structural component created by history and inherently inherited.It was largely seen that differences in race still matters only because South Africans make it matter. All the views of participants were forcibly related to racialism and were rarely from a personal experience of injustice. It seems that society continues to insist on segregation economically, linguistically, geographically and ethnically. One of the audience members noted that: ‘the rainbow colours never mix’, maybe it is inherently human nature to distinguish through separation rather than taking advantage of differences to enhance the whole. There is a shared fear of being different because South Africans were once forced to be different based on race only. The question posed was: when will South Africans stop being forced as well as force ourselves to view one another as Black and White?

IkamvaYouth is at the core at tackling these issues and is a community that is aware, wants to be heard and has the power to make a greater change – The views many Ikamvanites have are from a personal and sincere point of view. These views matter and make issues and discussions more linked to the humaneness of the issues people face on their daily lives.

Ikamvanites, Speak Out! Only you can represent your views with the intensity that they should be viewed. If you feel strong about something – Shout!

Thank you IkamvaYouth for showing us that our voice matters!

Written by Kihisha Suleman (Volunteer in charge of Career Guidance at Ebony Park)