Who’s the blackest minister of them all?

2014-06-06 10:00

The most depressing feature of the new South African Cabinet is not the increase in size or the controversy over who was appointed or left out; it was the animated but superficial media-driven debate about who is “black” and who is not.

The appointment of Nhlanhla Nene as the third minister of finance has opened up a crude discourse about race and the definition of “black” or “African” that reveals the sociopolitical failure to leave apartheid behind.

President Jacob Zuma’s redeployment of Pravin Gordhan and elevation of Nene has caused celebration in what could mistakenly be described as the indigenous section of the population known as African.

The rise of Nene has been greeted as a resounding victory by a large section of the indigenous people as marking the crowning of African talent to strategic leadership positions.

Some people had the nerve to accuse the ANC government of succumbing to market forces, international corporate and business partners and white racism by being overcautious in the appointment of an indigenous African as a finance minister.

The Treasury has, wrongly, been perceived as a no-go area for an African minister.

But this perception reduces Nene to a token and denies the fact that he is perhaps the most qualified to succeed Gordhan.

The very fact that some people could publicly say that no black person has been appointed as a finance minister insults the history, identity, self-definition and performance of Trevor Manuel and of Gordhan, and perpetuates apartheid division based on ethnicity.

After 20 years, people must begin to show signs they are ready to embrace each other as equal citizens who do not judge each other on race.

In fact, the development indicators to measure social cohesion indicate more than 50% of the population describes itself as South African and does not include race or tribe as a self-descriptor.

Of course, some will always agree that colour-blindness is a denial of racism, but we have to recognise merit and progress where it exists.

There should be no double standards in how we wish to define “blackness” as espoused by Steve Biko, or Africanness as postulated by Thabo Mbeki in his “I am an African” speech.

The whole brouhaha over who is black and who isn’t does not jive well with the principles and ideals of our Constitution.

How did we get in this bind?

Why do many people want to draw a distinction between Manuel, Gordhan and Nene?

First, we must admit there is still tension among the different ethnic groups. There is a widespread perception, especially in the indigenous African community, that coloured and Indian people still benefit more than Africans do in the new dispensation.

Not enough has been done to resolve this complex relationship.

Secondly, indigenous people want to see more Africans placed in leadership positions that will entrust them with responsibilities that bolster confidence and trust in African talent.

There are still many Africans, especially in the corporate world, who hold token positions and this generates and reveals deep-seated self-hatred among Africans.

Third, we need practical programmes that will promote social cohesion among the previously disadvantaged from all groups to help build trust and confidence among those who have been psychologically damaged by apartheid.

It would seem that after 20 years of freedom, there are far too many people who are still lost in the thicket of racial obsession.

» Memela is the chief director of social cohesion at the department of arts and culture

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.