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Essay competition tackles racism

Written by Silusapho Nyanda

Young people are writing down and discussing their experiences of racism in South Africa thanks to the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation.

Participants in the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation’s annual Youth Essay Writing Competition Against Racism are addressing the sensitive topic through their writing. The competition, which is already accepting entries for this year’s leg, aims to help start a dialogue in the country about issues of racism and how they impact South Africans.

This year’s themes include “#UniteAgainstRacism; Race is not real, but racism is; Othering and belonging; and Racism in South African schools, a thing of the past?”.

Winner of the 2017 competition, Nia Louw (18) says the competition gave her the opportunity to confront her own experiences of racism. The psychology and media studies student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal said it was when she was preparing the oral presentation of her essay that the trauma of her past experiences with racism struck her.

“The essay started off with my thoughts about how life would be if we were never colonised. I then went into my own experiences of what it was like experiencing racism in a school environment,” she says.

Louw adds that during her time at a former Model C school she felt discriminated against for turning up with her natural hair.

“A lot of schools were not acknowledging what it feels like to be victimised for having natural hair; to have your hair always be an issue at school as a young black woman,” Louw adds.

Winner of the 2018 competition, Tyla Prinsloo, says her essay called on others to tackle racism wherever it manifests itself in the country.

She says the  competition gave her the opportunity to write about how being silent when others make racist comments is in itself an act of racism.

“The subject matter is something that is relevant for the demographic that I am a part of because it is something that we assume that we are not meant to speak about because we are born free or it’s the rainbow nation,” she says.

The 21-year-old says her essay was drawn from personal experiences where she was expected to not speak out when people were making racist statements or acting in a racist manner.

The competition is taking entries until the end of July and essays can be written in any of the official languages. Entries should be between 1 000 and 1 400 words, and participants must be between 15 and 25 years.

“This year, we look forward to learning from the young minds of this country and hear how they think our society can be shaped and transformed to meet the type of vision articulated in our Constitution,” said Jessica Mofokeng, who runs the competition on behalf of the foundation.

Each essay should clearly indicate the participant’s name and surname, their chosen topic, age, their postal address as well as a contact number that the essay writer can easily be contacted on. Essays must be sent to youth@kathradafoundation.org.

The winner will be awarded R2 000 in cash, while the runner up will receive R1 000 with the third placed person will receive R500. Each of the top three will also each receive a laptop.