There was a time in the history of this country when white Springbok trialist Dan “Cheeky” Watson and brothers Gavin, Valence and Ronnie, defied apartheid by leaving their upmarket Park Drive family home to play rugby with us at the Zwide, Dan Qeqe and Adcock stadiums in the dusty Port Elizabeth townships.
To the Watsons it was about breaking racial barriers and stereotypes – a powerful political statement which made it clear to those in power that, regardless of skin colour, we were one.
Those days, entering any township meant driving past a board at the entrance, warning: “You are entering a non-white area.”
As part of this anti-apartheid crusade, we also had the likes of Molly Blackburn, her sister Judy, Andrew Savage, Janet Cherry, Glenn Goosen, Howard Varney, Kobus Pienaar, Dominic Souchon, and Rory Riordan who braved the apartheid backlash for the cause of a free South Africa.
Last week, I spent time at the three-day Brics Political Parties Plus Dialogue in Tshwane to listen and interact with delegates representing political parties from South Africa, Russia, India, China, Angola, Botswana, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Malaysia, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Palestine, Sahrawi Arab Republic, Nicaragua, Namibia and Mozambique.
Identified as a real threat to world peace was the rise of narrow nationalism, with an influence to spread globally if not challenged.
Having emerged from a divided past ourselves – based on race and ethnicity – the experience of the human devastation narrow nationalism has caused in countries such as Rwanda and the Middle East, should serve as deterrent to anyone preaching hate among us.
“Tolerance and forgiveness have led to the current stability in our country after the ethnic-driven violence between Hutus and Tutsis, which left thousands dead – something which was never part of our history before, because we speak one language,” a Rwandan delegate said.
Palestinian leader Hanan Ashrawi, spokesperson of the Palestinian delegation to the Middle East peace process, said: “What we see from the Israeli government is the rise of populism, power politics, isolationism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, which is all a formula for fascism.
“Palestine has always enjoyed diversity but now – with 55% of our land given to Israel – you have the occupier and the occupied.”
President Cyril Ramaphosa made it clear that narrow nationalism could only serve to undermine the rules-based multilateral system of global governance. “When extreme nationalism rises, so does that potential for countries to arrogate to themselves the right to determine the fate of the entire world.”
The wave of this phenomenon that narrowly seeks to promote a world where unilateralism thrives, has been seen in the success of far-right parties in Italy, Germany and in Austrian polls in 2017 and 2018, with nationalist policies being pursued by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi and the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Graca Machel pointed out that authoritarian leaders “show increasing confidence in their ability to erode human rights, shrink civic space and in the worst cases, imprison and massacre their own citizens without fear of reprisal”.
With the country’s elections not far off, the electorate must be wary of political leaders espousing the dangerously populist rhetoric seeking to erode Mandela’s legacy of non-racialism and inclusivity by promoting the narrow nationalism we have fought against.