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A View on The World Conference on Racism

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: The following article is re-printed from "Imfama," the bi-monthly magazine of the South African National Council for the Blind, Volume 41, No. 5, October 2001.

"The World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance" was held in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal from 28 August to 7 September caused a lot of controversy and heated debates amongst delegates.

Imfama spoke to the World Blind Union's official delegate, Maaka Tibble, Chairperson of the organization's newly established Committee on Blind Indigenous People about his views on racism, his expectations of the conference as well as his impressions after the conference.

Racism can be defined as making the race of other people a factor in attitudes or actions concerning them. Racism therefore implies a belief in the superiority on one's own race.

According to Tibble this definition should be broadened to include people with disabilities and those from economically and socially disadvantaged groups.

"Racism should be more inclusive because people who are socially and economically deprived as well as those with disabilities evoke a number of reactions from the societies in which they live. Race should therefore not be defined as the only cause of racism, but it should be considered that social status also plays a major role."

Racism is alive and well in most parts of the world, says Tibble, and government policies are a good reflection of this. The lack of inclusion of minority groups is evident in almost all decision-making processes. It can also be seen in the fact that a special status is often awarded to a specific group.

"The solution to racism is power-sharing or the inclusion of all minority groups in the decision-making processes of a country. This will lead to a change in people's attitudes towards specific groups and those groups will no longer be considered as inferior."

He feels that the Human Rights attitude that has been adopted by many countries - South Africa included - is a positive step and can be considered as the vehicle through which minority groups can obtain inclusion.

"There is currently more goodwill amongst people that ever before in the history of the mankind. South Africa is a good example of this - the fact that different populations groups have been able to come together peacefully to be included in the decision-making processes of the country, is definitely a step in the right direction. The feedback that I got when speaking with people from different population groups in South Africa has been very exciting."

His hopes that the various representatives at the conference would have gained a better understanding of the issues minority groups are faced with. The fact that NGOs have been included in the agenda should be seen as a very positive step.

"In the past governments focused on issues relating to global economics, while the rights of minority groups had to take a backseat. However at this conference cognizance is now being taken of issues from a human rights perspective. Governments now realize that minority groups' issues should be dealt with."

According to Tibble the responsibility to eliminate racism from our societies lies with the individual. "Everything starts with how individuals, communities and countries relate to each other. Do they really understand each other's issues and do they acknowledge that everyone has a right to space and to share that space? Effective communication also plays a vital role."

Another very important issue is strong leadership. Leadership must be able to drive well constructed action plans aimed at empowering people. The long-term goal of these action plans must be development.

Tibble also strongly believes that the leadership should be in the hands of the people involved or associated with the different sectors and groups for example people in the disability sector's abilities must be developed and utilized in such a way that they are involved in the drafting of policy based on their specific needs.

Tibble attended the Non Government Organizations (NGO) Forum which was held from 28 - 31 August.

"As expected people with disabilities were excluded to such an extent that those of us at the conference developed a petition expressing our disappointment on this exclusion and a whole range of other issues that led us to feel angry toward the organizers. The petition was delivered to the Human Rights Commissioner," he said.

A highlight however, was meeting other persons with disabilities from around the world and share stories.

The conference was dominated by three main issues. Firstly, reparation around slavery. Secondly, issues around the Caste system and issues about the Palestinian situation in Israel.

"Many stories on a whole range of issues were told but the main emphasis was to confirm NGO suggestions toward a plan of action over the next period of time."

Tibble is a blind leader in the Maori community of New Zealand and is also involved in the Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind. He is also the founder and advisor of a consumer organization for Maori People and a member of the Disabled People's Assembly.

Until recently he was Manager of the Waitemata District Health Department's Mental Health, Drug and Alcohol Centre in Auckland. Currently he is the manager of a hospital in a rural area of the country.

He graduated as a social worker but went on the complete his studies in Social Studies and also obtained a Diploma in Business Management. After graduating he became involved in the Health sector and later formed his own business consultancy.