There is a joke that used to do the rounds about the late South African Communist Party leader, Joe Slovo: he was spotted by two black ladies walking in a crowded place with Nelson Mandela. The one lady excitedly says: “Look, Mandela! I wonder who the white man with him is.” The other lady looks at her friend, puzzled: “That’s not a white man, that’s Joe Slovo.”
It might be an old joke but it captures the essence of the kind of society that the architects of the Freedom Charter dreamt of: a society where a person’s character and deeds mattered more than the race they were born into.
The recent utterances by Ace Magashule, the secretary-general of the ANC, urging voters not to vote for white people, flies in the face of the values of the organisation. A lot has gone wrong with the vision of the rainbow nation as espoused by those that gave us the Constitution. But any leader worth their salt knows campaigning for votes on racial lines goes against the values of the Constitution.
It’s not as though Magashule created the conditions that have made it possible to appeal to voters based on race. This is something that has been going wrong on a number of levels over many years.
Racial polarisation has deepened over time to such an extent that a lot of the rot that has been allowed to fester in the past decade has been conveniently hidden under racist rhetoric. Who can forget that the architects of what they termed radical economic transformation always invoked race when questioned about the looting of state resources?
The secretary-general was only continuing where the proponents of state capture left off when he asked voters not to vote for white people.
When Iqbal Surve first appeared before the commission of inquiry into allegations of impropriety regarding the Public Investment Corporation, he caused quite a stir when in almost every answer to questions, he brought up that he and his companies were under attack because they were not enslaved to white banks.
But that’s not the worst of it. It was the racial diatribe that was directed at Gill Marcus for calling him out on his constant reference to race that is beyond belief. Social media went into overdrive. She was called names and labels not worth repeating here. Surve was suddenly the victim of racism and Marcus represented white privilege. No one cared about the billions that have been questionably advanced to Surve’s companies from the institution that is supposed to look after trillions of rands belonging to ordinary South Africans.
Again, an individual called to account for his alleged use of government funds as his kitty bank could hide behind racist rhetoric because they’re allowed to.
The saddest part was that leaders like Julius Malema could chime in with tweets like “I don’t care that she fought during the struggle, she is racist”, without providing proof of this racism, except the word of a man accused of pilfering billions.
The ruling party has allowed itself to be under the control of questionable business leaders. No one within the ANC could come out and say to those who used race to attack Marcus: “That is not a white woman being attacked by Surve, that is Gill Marcus.” She deserves better.