Let's Think

Redefining black and white – Malema and Ramaphosa both confused

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Should there still be a dividing line between black and white South Africans if the country belongs “to all who live in it”?

This question is pertinent against the background of some contentious and even dangerous statements by very prominent political leaders during Heritage Month.

Some of those statements came from two very far-apart leaders during the week that the country was celebrating Heritage Day: the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Julius Malema, and the deputy president of the country and the African National Congress (ANC), Cyril Ramaphosa.

The statement that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white”, is part of the preamble of both the country’s constitution and the Freedom Charter. It is entwined by the ideal of “a nation united in diversity”.

Also part of the preamble and spelled out in detail in the Constitution is the ideal that all South Africans should be free to express their opinion, free in political association, in religion and more.

However, some statements from both the gentlemen mentioned and their organisations and/or associates during the time of heritage celebrations were at odds with these ideals and dictates, betraying dangerously confused thinking where it comes to freedom and nationhood.


Let’s first look at, and contemplate, some of the ‘wisdoms’ that emanated from Mr Malema and his party.

In a statement on Heritage Day the EFF, among other things, called into question the appropriateness of having one of the nation’s national heritage sites – indeed a top international heritage site – called the Kruger National Park, after the erstwhile president of the Transvaal or Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR).

They describe him as “a colonial racist who engineered and presided over the Boer Republic …”

What the EFF, however, fails to recognise or choose to ignore, is that Kruger led Africa’s first anti-colonial war in history against Britain. The Kruger family’s colonial resistance, in fact, stretches back to the Swellendam rebellion of 1795.

Also that if Kruger was not in terms of conservation well ahead of his time, we and the world might never have had such a prized heritage site.

The foundation for the park, which today covers 19 485 square kilometres, was laid in 1898 on the eve of the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer war with the declaration by law of the Sabi Game Reserve.

Today the park, unrivalled in the world in terms of its diversity of wildlife forms (in the order of 140-plus species of mammals and more than 500 varieties of bird) and a global leader in advanced environmental management techniques and policies, is a dream from Kruger’s time come true to protect wildlife from hunters and to preserve an undisturbed wilderness for future generations.

If Malema and his ilk were broader thinkers, they could lay claim to being part of this Kruger legacy. Apart from his habit to negotiate borders with neighbouring tribes, Kruger was not a ‘white man’ in the full sense of the word.

In his bloodline, starting on the maternal side with the arrival in the Cape of the Steyn family in 1668 and on the paternal side the arrival of Jacob Kruger in 1713, there were infusions of genes other than exclusively white. Foremothers include the Slave Lodge-born Maria Lozee and her illegitimate son named Jacobus Steyn and Cecilia Sweeres van de Caap who was mother to Kruger founding mother Jannetje Kemp.

Professor Hans Heese pointed out in his 1979 book Groep Sonder Grense (Group Without Borders) that Kruger represents one of the big ironies of South African history. If section 6 of the ZAR’s constitution was enforced to the letter, Kruger could never have become president.

The particular section prohibited any person of mixed race, going back ten generations, from holding office.

But in the opportunistic and/or confused thinking of Malema and other present-day racists, there is no room for such subtleties. The concept of race is bent to suit their own narrow political agendas.

During the very same Heritage Month Malema accused Ramaphosa of not being truly black, saying: "There is no difference between Botha, Verwoerd, and Cyril Ramaphosa because Ramaphosa is not black, he is non-white."


But Deputy President Ramaphosa during the week of Heritage Day also made himself guilty of, at best, an unfortunate choice of words when addressing the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) Military Veterans Association’s third national general council in Gauteng.

On the one hand he encouraged the ex-liberation struggle soldiers to continue to speak out against racism and sexism and intolerance, but also to remain “a force of revolutionary consciousness,(our emphasis) behaviour and discipline”.

The dangerous part of his address, and illustrative to what extent national interest and party interests have become one and the same thing, emerges when he in the same breath encouraged them “to stand up against those who undermine the collective leadership of the ANC and those who seek to subvert the will of the people”.

One can hope it is just coincidence, but only two days later it came to light how MK veterans were being used on the Alice campus of the University of Fort Hare to attack members of the Democratic Alliance Student Organisation (Daso).   

It was reported how a recorded conversation between two senior officials of the university revealed it as part of a plan to ensure that the newly elected Daso- dominated student leadership structure on the campus was disbanded.

We think

At the start of Heritage Month there was a commendably balanced statement on the ANC’s website by a member of the party’s National Executive Committee and chairperson of its Education and Health Sub-Committee, Naledi Pandor. In it she, among other things, stated: “This is our nation and we need to forge a new inclusive South Africa together”:

“National events have somewhat of a partisan flavour and appear to exclude when they should be premier occasions for social cohesion.

“It may be necessary to draw on civil society in the preparation of such events and the mandate would be national inclusion and promotion of belonging and national symbols.”

We think the time has come for us as a nation to use these events to transcend that which divides us, politically and otherwise.

Under the restrictions of the ideal length of an article like this one, now is not the occasion to argue that, but we also think there is plenty of scope for initiatives from within the so-called white community to establish our “Africanness”.

by Piet Coetzer

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