The Problem of Racial, Ethnic and Cultural Discrimination in South Africa

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An issue that has faced society in South Africa is race/ethnicity/culture. The issue that we face is that because there is little understanding of the race/ethnicity/culture of and within the people of the country, those who are rich in these areas are often discriminated against. My dad is Tshivenda and my mom is Xhosa. The first language I spoke was IsiXhosa, however when I went to preschool, at the age of 3, it was evident to me that speaking my language wasn’t accepted so I quickly learnt English and put the beautiful language in a cupboard to save for later. On heritage days I would always wear the most beautiful traditional attire representing either my Tshivenda or Xhosa heritage, my grandmothers knew ladies that would make them for my sister and I, and these would be upgraded almost every year. When I got to prep school I recall being so excited to show off my newest Nwenda as heritage day became my cultural red carpet, I’d even speak in Tshivenda to the staff who were also Venda. I got many compliments on my “African prints” and their beauty, but the one thing that hurt was when a friend of mine spoke down on my people and our culture calling us “poor, dirty and unable to speak good English” ; our food was “disgusting and smelly” despite her never tasting it. I then came to high school where I was told that people from Venda sound like washing machines or like they’re underwater when they speak, and despite it being a joke it still offended me because that was the beautiful and intricate language spoken by my family and my ancestors.

On the other end of the spectrum we have people who love the appearance of our race/ethnicity/culture so much that they mimic it. The issue with this is that there is often no understanding of the meaning behind tradition and it is merely worn because it is pretty. For many Africans and South Africans culture and ethnicity became more than just a practice, it became their identity. During the horrific days of colonialism and later apartheid South Africa, those of rich ethnic or cultural background were discriminated against and taken advantage of due to these factors as well as race. Their race, culture and ethnicity kept them going as it helped them stick together as a community and through song many were able to overcome or survive these difficult times. Mimicking culture, ethnicity or race without the full understanding of practices strips them of their importance and belittles them to a fashion statement to be exploited and forgotten about by next spring. Wearing a hijab, kimono, nwende, sari or any other form of cultural attire as well as getting braids, beads or henna without understanding what it means doesn’t feel like support but rather like once again our people and practices are being taken advantage of, and by continuing to do so without the knowledge of the culture we will never be able to stop cultural, ethnic and racial discrimination.

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The Black Lives Matter movement was founded on the 13th of July in 2013 by 3 African American women, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi. Their aim is to “build local power and to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes”. The movement is American and therefore focuses on racial discrimination of African Americans within their society. The movement rose to fame when they protested against police brutality as a result of racial discrimination, hence the name Black Lives Matter. The discrimination of people of colour in America has been an issue since the colonisation of the country and carrying through to The Great Depression. In the year 2019 1, 099 people were killed at the hands of police officers, with 24% of them being African American, despite them making up only 13% of the American population. African Americans are three times more likely to be killed as a result of police brutality and the police claim that this is due to the fact that they are armed and refuse to abide by procedure, however African Americans are 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed than white Americans. The problem at hand is that innocent people are losing their lives due to discrimination, and more often than not these officers are getting away with it. In 2019 only 27 out of 365 days saw Americans not being killed by police officers supposedly serving the state. People can get by with hearing rude remarks/comments regarding their race but killing people who have done nothing wrong is what provoked these 3 women to protest. Since the BlackLivesMatter movement began there has been an increase in police brutality with 426 in 2013 to 1, 147 in 2017. Between 2017 and 2019 there has been a decrease of 48 deaths which can be credited to the Black Lives Matter movement creating fear in the police department to commit the crime. Police departments nationwide have also changed regulations and procedures to include measures to avoid police brutality as a result of the awareness.

Although police brutality isn’t as pressing an issue as it is in America, the issue of racial, ethnic and cultural discrimination largely affects South Africa and so a programme such as Black Lives Matter could help. It could do so by creating a forum for black people in the country to connect and relate, although I think that it would be helpful to open it to all people of colour and white people in support of the cause in South Africa as there is strength in numbers. Educating those within the community of people of colour would make it easier to educate those around us and it would increase cultural appreciation once we realise how similar and interlinked our cultures. In order for it to be successful, support from the government and political party youth leagues etc. would be needed to create a sense of national agreement in that there is a problem that needs to be addressed.

As spoken by our late ex-president “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” and I believe that if we educate those around us about the importance that race, culture and ethnicity hold in our lives, and teach them about individual practices we will be able to move forwards. As a member of society I will speak up when jokes about my culture, race or ethnicity are made in hopes that society will use that to change the way they act and think. I will also speak in my South African languages with pride and teach my friends and those around me about these languages. I will try to make sure that I’m not part of the problem by respecting the cultures, races and ethnicities of others around me and choosing to learn about them rather than discriminate against them. Intelligence isn’t measured by your ability to speak English, and I will continue to spread this message to those who feel the need to mock others’ accents or inability to speak fluently or any language. When people here Latino languages or British accents it is sexy, however other languages are not. To combat this I will teach people the beauty of my languages and I will learn the beauty of others so that all South Africans can be included in this beauty.

Reference List

  1. Philosophy Talk. 2020. What is Cultural Appropriation? | Philosophy Talk. [ONLINE] Available at:
  2. Black Lives Matter. 2020. About - Black Lives Matter. [ONLINE] Available at: Lives Matter (@blklivesmatter) profile on Instagram • 615 posts . 2020.
  3. Black Lives Matter (@blklivesmatter) profile on Instagram • 615 posts . [ONLINE] Available at: 2020.
  4. Colonial history of the United States - Wikipedia. [ONLINE] Available at: Mapping Police Violence. 2020. Mapping Police Violence. [ONLINE] Available at:
  5. Cambridge Core. 2020. Black Lives Matter: Evidence that Police-Caused Deaths Predict Protest Activity. [ONLINE] Available at:
  6. Wikipedia. 2020. Police brutality - Wikipedia. [ONLINE] Available at:
  7. Trinity College. 2020. The True Impact of Black Lives Matter - Trinity College. [ONLINE] Available at:
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The Problem of Racial, Ethnic and Cultural Discrimination in South Africa. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 12, 2024, from
“The Problem of Racial, Ethnic and Cultural Discrimination in South Africa.” Edubirdie, 25 Aug. 2022,
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