Touching a nerve

2008-08-27 00:00

In yesterday’s Witness, MEC for Local Government, Housing and Traditional Affairs, Michael Mabuyakhulu, writing as a member of the African National Congress (ANC), criticised the recent assertion by Shehana Gaibie that “Indians won’t vote for the ANC bullies, but nor should they abstain”. According to Mabuyakhulu, Gaibie is a former ANC branch secretary who “should know better” — although what she should know better is not clear.

In fact, Gaibie, and a number of other Indian commentators — whether in newspaper articles or in letters to the press — have recently expressed their dissatisfaction and disappointment with the ANC, the party many of them supported during apartheid and the Nelson Mandela years, but which they feel has since forgotten, or even jettisoned, them and does not now represent their interests. As South Africa loudly prides itself on being a democracy, it is surely the democratic right of these people, as members of a minority within it, to express their opinions, and, if they feel marginalised by a party that once purported to represent them, to say so.

And clearly, as we move more deeply into the pre-election period, their views have touched a nerve in the ruling party, or else the response would not have been so swift or so over the top. Mabuyakhulu describes them as “arrogantly presumptuous” and suggests that their comments (“rantings”) are undemocratic and insult and patronise other members of the Indian community by suggesting that they’re “unthinking voting fodder”. He accuses Gaibie and Indian South Africans who think as she does of promoting ethnicism and racism, and goes so far as to cast aspersions on Fatima Meer, staunch and ever-vigilant upholder of democracy, suggesting that she’s besmirching the memory of her husband Ismail Meer. And, typically, he blames the media for fomenting divisiveness by allowing the disaffected to air their views, instead of accepting that newspapers are simply doing their job and that vigorous debate lies at the heart of democracy.

All leaders must learn that they have to rule the whole country, not just themselves and their supporters. To do that they must, somehow, rekindle the largeness of spirit, the genuinely democratic inclusiveness that seemed to vanish from government with the departure of Nelson Mandela.

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