Political Watch

ANC playing the race card with aplomb

Colour changed, but not the attitude

In South Africa, playing the race card has become the default reaction of the African National Congress and many others to shield themselves from dealing with the country’s complex realities.

In the days before the advent of ‘full democracy’ in 1994 the National Party had often been accused of doing the same in justifying policies which had failed to deal with the full realities of the country’s complexities.

Nowadays it would seem that the only thing that has changed since 1994 is that the default political card has changed colour – black has been replaced by white, sometimes slightly tinted to ‘foreigners’.

Nothing illustrated this better than the justification used in the past week by Minister of Police Nathi Nhleko for his unconstitutional suspension of Hawks commander Anwa Dramat. Claiming the suspension was because of the rendition of Zimbabwean citizens to that country’s police, he said: “I am convinced that because the lives involved and the lives at stake are those of black people … the debate (is) about the institutional arrangements of the Hawks. Had the lives involved been those of white people, the debate and headlines would have been about human rights.”

In the meantime it has become abundantly clear that the saga has all to do with the interest of the ANC and some of its leaders. It is also part of a pattern of destruction of crime- and corruption-fighting institutions due to power- and ideological battles within the ANC and its structures.

During the same week Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu, in reaction to the looting of foreign owned shops, said: “… foreigners need to understand that they are here as a courtesy and our priority is to the people of this country first and foremost.”

And from the secretary general of the ANC, Gwede Mantashe, while reporting on an ANC leadership meeting, came the remark it is interesting that people who come here with interesting accents from Europe are not the ones being chased, claiming what happened to shop owners in Gauteng was proof of ‘Afro-phobia’.

On the subject of land ownership he resurrected plans to exclude “foreigners” from owning land and restrict local ownership to two farms and 12 000 ha, an action with clear racial undertones.

In Tshwane, Minister of Mineral Resources Ngoako Ramatlhodi claimed apartheid was alive and well. Speaking on behalf of the ANC at a memorial service for deceased controversial former Commissioner of Police, Jackie Selebi, he said: “Those amongst us who may have believed that apartheid is dead and buried are living in fool's paradise. It is alive and well, having changed only the form of its existence.”

The list goes on and on, and racially-based employment and sport quotas and other ‘transformation’ policies can be added. 

Not only the ANC

It would, however, be wrong to blame this trend towards racism on just the ANC.

Also last week the United Front, an offspring of the fracturing ANC Alliance, in a statement in reaction to the Gauteng looting incidents, said: “We must recognise that the ANC's ongoing complicity with historically white and foreign (our emphasis) capital has produced a political and economic order that has not only failed to deliver the basic necessities of life to millions of South Africans, but has further shredded South Africa's already deeply frayed social fabric. The potential for serious, widespread violence is all too real, and the consequences will be devastating.” 

And last week as well there was much controversy about a school at Roodeplaat near Pretoria that had divided classes on a racial basis.

On social media platforms, used among others by celebrities, and on blogs there are multiple examples of racist attitudes in the white community – a common thread being that many of South Africa’s problems and ills can be ascribed to “inherent incompetence” of black people.

These attitudes reflect a denial of some of the realities of our past. I can remember a telling statistic from the mid-1980s, when the then President’s Council was reviewing some key apartheid legislation, including what was known as ‘work reservation’.

It transpired that while the ratio of mid-level managers to the number of employees they were responsible for in a country like Germany was one to eight, in South Africa it was one to something in the high 40s.                                                                  

This result of the practice of work reservation on a racial basis did not only lead to inefficiencies and some people (whites) being promoted to beyond their abilities. It also robbed the economy of a huge pool of talent and failed to develop sufficient skills and experience for the new political dispensation to come.

While the ANC can be blamed for the way in which they managed the transition in this regard post-1994, it does not take away the root cause back in our history.

When, during a high school debating evening in the 1960s, I argued that the group-areas law of the time was robbing talented black people of upward mobility, friends and teachers accused me of being a “pink liberal” and worse. It would seem as though fifty years later not much has changed, except some colour swaps.

Until we learn to deal with the complexities of our very diverse society on a truly colour blind basis, we will remain doomed to live in a troubled land.

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by Piet Coetzer

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