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14 March 2023

Race and Racism Dialogue

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)
Press Release

Race and Racism Dialogue: Why racism is persistent and how it could be erased in post-apartheid South Africa

Pretoria, Tuesday 14 March 2023Every year, South Africa commemorates Human Rights Day on 21 March in remembrance of the sacrifices that accompanied the country’s struggle for democracy. As part of its celebrations, the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) will host a one-day dialogue on race and racism at the Ditsong National Museum of Cultural History in Pretoria on Thursday, 16 March 2023 from 9h00.

The dialogue is premised on the notion that the work of remaking the world in truly non-racial ways may proceed on a better and more informed basis if there is a better understanding of how race and racism work in a country that has recently emerged from a racist past.

It will bring together close to 100 participants from the government, academia, the diplomatic corps, and civil society to discuss this contentious issue. The discussion will be guided by themes found in a recently published book titled, Paradise Lost: Race and Racism in Post-apartheid South Africa.

The book was co-edited by Gregory Houston, Modimowabarwa Kanyane and Yul Derek Davids and published by Brill Publishers. It is about the continuing salience of race and the persistence of racism in post-apartheid South Africa.

The chapters illustrate the multiple ways in which race and racism are manifested and propose various strategies to address racial inequality, and to confront racism and the power structure that underpins it. It also explores how a renewed commitment to a non-racial society can help to erase apartheid’s racial categories, even as they are being reinforced.

The authors believe that society should be allowed to speak overtly and frankly when grappling with these matters as a vital component in the building of a non-racial society.

The dialogue will focus on the following questions: Why does race remain so salient and racism so pervasive in the country after close to three decades of democratic rule? To what extent has it to do with the loss of privilege, on the one hand, and the failure of efforts to achieve social justice through racial redress, on the other?

According to the HSRC’s Dr Gregory Houston, the first democratic elections ushered in a period of hope and expectation of a non-racial South Africa in which race would become irrelevant and racism would be eradicated. However, the hope of a non-racial paradise seems lost.

“We see an increasing number of racist incidents that bring to the fore deep-seated feelings of inter-racial dislike and mistrust. Various sectors of society are still fertile grounds in which racism flourishes and race dominates. Among these sectors are public spaces such as universities. For example, an incident took place at Stellenbosch University where a white student urinated on the possessions of a black student,” Dr Houston said.

Ashwin Desai, in his chapter “The Boundaries of Race and the Wicket-ness of Class in the Gentleman’s Game” proposes that a start must be made to unlock cages of ascribed identities and free people to define themselves so that race becomes irrelevant.

He adds that the link between race and class in society should be brought into sharp focus as a way of progressively bringing about social justice. Houston, Kanyane and Davids write that the starting point is to work aggressively against all that places race at the centre of identity. Nobody should feel, or think, that one is inferior or superior to another based on ascribed identity.

They conclude that post-apartheid South Africa retains some of the privileges of apartheid for a few, as well as some elements of the non-racial paradise for all. It is only by dealing with the former decisively and totally that the latter can be attained, and race and racism ultimately erased.

The dialogue is an opportunity to propose radical transformation approaches and permanent interventions that can bring closure to racism and its manifestations. It also presents an opportunity to test some of the conclusions reached in the book, Paradise Lost: Race and Racism in Post-apartheid South Africa.

The keynote address will be delivered by Advocate Thembeka Ngcukaitobi. The programme director at the event will be the celebrity radio personality, Ms Brenda Sisane, while other speakers include the three editors of the book, the new CEO of the HSRC, Professor Sarah Mosoetsa, and the CEO of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Mr Sello Hatang.

Paradise Lost: Race and Racism in Post-apartheid South Africa is authored by:

  1. Dr Gregory Houston, a chief research specialist at the HSRC and a research fellow of the History Department at the University of the Free State;
  2. Modimowabarwa Kanyane, a former research director and strategic lead at the HSRC and currently the executive dean of the Faculty of Management, Commerce and Law at UNIVEN; and
  3. Dr Yul Derek Davids, a research director at the HSRC and an advisory member of the Department of Applied Legal Studies at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.



Details of the event

Date:                 16 March 2023

Time:                 9h00 to 16h30

Venue:              Ditsong National Museum of Cultural History in Pretoria

(Cnr Bosman St & Visagie St, Pretoria Central, Pretoria, 0002)                          

For media inquiries:

Dr Lucky Ditaunyane, Cell: 0832276074, Email: Adziliwi Nematandani, Cell: 0827659191, Email:


Notes to the Editor

About the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)

The HSRC was established in 1968 as South Africa’s statutory research agency and has grown to become the largest dedicated research institute in the social sciences and humanities on the African continent, doing cutting-edge public research in areas that are crucial to development.

Our mandate is to inform the effective formulation and monitoring of government policy; to evaluate policy implementation; to stimulate public debate through the effective dissemination of research-based data and fact-based research results; to foster research collaboration, and to help build research capacity and infrastructure for the human sciences.

The Council conducts large-scale, policy-relevant, social-scientific research for public sector users, non-governmental organizations, and international development agencies. Research activities and structures are closely aligned with South Africa’s national development priorities.

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