‘Wit gevaar’

2009-09-04 00:00

THE Caster Semenya homecoming hijacking by the African National Congress was much more than an impromptu attempt at hogging the limelight. It was an attempt to steal a march on appropriating our common nat­ional consciousness, to take success and wrap it in ANC colours­.

This is worrying, because our common national consciousness belongs to none of us and all of us simultaneously. It is the fabric of our identity as a nation and is forged by national icons and ordinary people alike over the period of many years. And the ANC now wants to annex it.

Since the 1992 Cricket World Cup in Australia, sport has united South Africans. When rain washed away our hopes of beating England in our first attempt at a semi-final, leaving us 22 runs to get off one ball, it was very hard not to feel the injustice as a nation, and the pride of seeing the world commiserate with us as our players took a lap of honour.

Even before we had a new nat­ional flag, our national identity was being forged at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. We celebrated with Elana Meyer and our men’s tennis doubles team of Wayne Ferreira and Pietie Norval as they claimed silver medals.

But sport really started to unite us during the 1995 Rugby World Cup, and we all remember seeing Nelson Mandela don a number six jersey. This image inspired a sense of nationhood in a new South Africa and our subsequent successes have flowed from that very special moment.

This did not go unnoticed by the world. As you read this, a major Hollywood film about this subject, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, is currently in post-production, having been shot in South Africa.

So what’s changed since our glory days of world and African championship success?

The answer is simple; where sport (and national public holidays, for that matter) used to unite us, it is now being used to divide the people of South Africa, and a divided South Africa will always be controlled by the now increasingly chauvinistic ANC.

Julius Malema’s neat, but simplistic separation of the people of South Africa into parochial stereo­types is typical of a strategy of “divide and conquer”. You’re either an athletics fan (black) or a rugby fan (white). You are either with us (black), or against us (white). What Malema conveniently chose to ignore is the fact that all South Africans, regardless of race or political affiliation, supported Semenya. It is the one issue on which all South Africans united. This was an all-too-rare moment of post-Polokwane unity among all South Africans. But for the revisionist sleight of hand by Malema, it proved to be a missed opportunity to come together as a nation.

Malema’s playbook is not new. It is well worth noting that his rhetoric has alarming echoes of Joseph Goebbels circa 1936. His paranoia of “the white media” is reminiscent of the Nazi propa­ganda minister whipping the German­ nation up into a frenzy of anti-Semitism.

“The Big Lie”, the theory that the people will believe a lie if audacious enough and if repeated often enough, was first cynically practised by the Nazis. Malema is the latest in a long line of populist leaders to use this tool. His insistence on the looming threat of white people destabilising the revolution taps into the fears of black South Africans. Rem­ember George Orwell’s Animal Farm? Remember how the caveat to all of Squealer’s speeches would always tap into the animals’ fear of the farmer returning? This is exactly the methodology behind Malema’s public utterances.

It is of grave concern that the ANC has not disciplined Malema for his hate speech. By logical extension, this means that the top leadership of the ruling party grant him their tacit approval to stoke the fires of division.

Malema is the only person in South Africa who is allowed to engage in borderline hate speech bec­ause it serves the ruling party. Imagine if a white politician welcomed a triumphant South African rugby team home from their successful Tri-Nations campaign and asked: “Where are all the black people? If it were a soccer team coming home, there would be more black people here.” Charges of hate speech would be filed so fast that it would make even Usain Bolt say: “Wow, that was quick.”

As long as South Africans continue to vote along tribal and racial lines, the ANC will continue to hold sway over the electorate. Instead of speaking to the fears of the electorate, the Congress of the People has chosen to speak to their hopes and aspirations. We hope to build a South Africa in which all its people have a common destiny.

While we may have come from a divided past, we have seen the power of a united South Africa. After­ all, is there really anything more inspiring than 60 000 people singing our new national anthem in unison, the stadium awash with thousands of flags? It is only by uniting that we can defeat the challenges of poverty, unemployment, disease and crime. Perhaps the ruling party pays lip service to this, all the while keeping the masses in poverty and igno­rance for the foreseeable future­, while holding history to account­ and not taking any res­ponsibility for the present. It would seem so, given the failure to hold Malema to account.


• Phillip Dexter, MP, is the head of communications for the Congress of the People.

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