A book exploring the lingering consequences of race and racism in South Africa and globally was launched during an online event hosted by the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) on Thursday, 25 June 2020.
'Fault Lines: A primer on race, science and society' delves into challenging questions such as, What is the link, if any, between race and disease? What are the roots of racial thinking in South African universities? Are new developments in genetics simply a backdoor for the return of eugenics?
Co-editor Prof Jonathan Jansen, distinguished professor of education at Stellenbosch University, said the issue is how to educationally address these concerns when people so often scream at each other when it comes to issues of race.
“When you talk to people about terrible racist actions and they say in response to the crisis, Wat het ons verkeerd gedoen? (What did we do wrong), my initial gut reaction was to say, Get real. But I then realised these were genuinely real responses," he said.
“People don't have a lot of patience with people who respond with, I really don't know what I did wrong. Yet the more I thought about that for the past ten years or so, the more I realised that that is true.
“My colleagues, my friends, my students really did not know what they did wrong. There isn't a moral conscience that kicks in that says, This is horrible. And unless we understand that, you are not going to change the underlying behaviour," he said.
Dr Cyrill Walters, lecturer on the MBA programme at USB and who co-edited the book, said that “when we talk about 'Fault Lines' it would be remiss of us not to mention Angela Saini's book, 'Superior: The Return of Race Science'.
“She touches on ignorance. She says ignorance is probably part of the problem, but the problem is not only ignorance. Even when people have all the facts, they don't necessarily want things to change," she said. “Even if people know it's wrong there's absolutely no reason for them to commit."
Ferial Haffajee, associate editor at the Daily Maverick, was a speaker and made reference to UCT Professor Nicoli Nattrass's research that made headlines recently (the research suggested that black South African students are less likely to consider studying the biological sciences than other students).
“I didn't know how to approach it because I don't think its primarily an issue of academic freedom; it's much more than that. She sent junior researchers out at lunch and they asked 112 students if they had pets, wanted to study conservation, and believed that Rhodes must fall.
“Stupid questions like those were going to beget the stupid answers that she got into a piece of research that to me is quite deformative, and I think Prof Nattrass knows that," she added.
“We sit with three pages of work that finds black students are materialistic and not really interested in the natural science. There are reasons why we should raise our voices against such research while standing up for the rights of academic freedom," Haffajee said.
She added that it was easy to debunk the Nattrass research with facts. “All I did was call up SANParks to find out that 13 of our 20 beautiful national parks are headed by black South Africans and all of the senior conservationists at SANParks are black South Africans. I think the kind of crude science-based research is really passé and should be on its way out across our campuses," she said.
Journalist and political commentator Max du Preez, who was also a speaker, said the timing of the book could not have been better “even though the authors could not have known that its publication would coincide with the extraordinary worldwide movement #BlackLivesMatter, unleashed by the murder of George Floyd".
“I am a bit of a cynic when it comes to human beings' ability to change in a short amount of time but the scale and intensity of the present movement suggests that history would one day point out that this was a moment when attitudes and sensitivity towards race shifted meaningfully," he said.
He added: “This is how we roll as human beings. Things can go wrong for a very long time, but we only sit up and notice change when something dramatic happens that gets lots of media coverage."
Prof Piet Naudé, USB Director, said in his introduction that the book appeared on the cusp of both national and international hard debates about race and other forms of isms in our society. “The reason why it is so important for us at the USB to part of this, is because we are part of South Africa.
“Our students, academics and international students are subject to the same kind of socialisation processes in South Africa. Therefore, there is no reason why we are less prone to racist attitudes, dismissive gender attitudes and issues of sexual orientation," he said.
Dr Armand Bam, Head of Social Impact at USB, was the facilitator.
The book is available at: