Max du Preez

Moreover, Mondli, we're obsessed with race

2018-07-03 08:36
Julius Malema addresses the media outside the home of the late struggle icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela at Orlando West. (Veli Nhlapo, Gallo Images, Sowetan, file)

Julius Malema addresses the media outside the home of the late struggle icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela at Orlando West. (Veli Nhlapo, Gallo Images, Sowetan, file)

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Most political commentators seem to believe that race relations in South Africa are worse than a decade ago, and racism more common. Can this be true?

On the surface it does appear as if we're about to throttle each other.

We see instances of anti-black racism in the media virtually every day. Insulting and threatening white people is an essential part of the EFF's political approach, while some elements in the ANC are not much different.

But why would South Africans today resent people of a different race more than at the end of apartheid in 1994? Surely we had a quarter of a century to make peace with each other?

The one mistake we shouldn't make, is to use social media as a barometer. Social media is like road rage, it brings out the worst in people. Still, it cannot be denied that social media indeed contributes to intolerance.

Cheap racial populism is undoubtedly having a huge impact on race relations.

When Jacob Zuma and his ilk realised their corruption and abuse were becoming public knowledge, they turned to identity politics to divert the attention. Bell Pottinger and the Gupta media kicked in and popularised concepts such as white monopoly capital and radical economic transformation.

Julius Malema and the EFF clearly decided on aggressive black nationalism as a pillar of its election strategy for 2019 with the white minority as the enemy. Like all cheap populists they are becoming more and more crude, to the point where they blatantly insult white and Indian South Africans, with the threat of violence always just below the surface.

The mainstream media has treated the EFF with kid gloves, fearing that the party would call them reactionary or racist. This has created a "new normal" where a white citizen who says something that vaguely smells of bigotry is publicly lynched while black bigots get away with serious racial threats and insults. Perhaps the EFF leadership's recent attacks on Indian South Africans have forced some media people to change their tune a little bit.

The EFF argues that it is simply speaking uncomfortable truth to power. What, the power of the 8% of the population who support them?

City Press editor Mondli Makhanya's opinion piece on Sunday on some "woke" black people's "debilitating obsession with whites" resonated with me.

"They spend so much time and energy seeking to negate whiteness that whiteness, ironically, becomes part of their identity," he writes. "Rather than overcoming the ideology of white superiority, they entrench it by putting whiteness at the centre of their every argument and cause."

I think most white people find it puzzling that so many black fellow citizens define themselves in relation to white people. I won't be surprised if white racists found that somehow affirming. Of course there is justifiable anger at continued inequality and white prejudice and privilege, but that, rather than whites as a population group should be the target.

I've had several conversations with ordinary white people who were puzzled by Julius Malema's famous tweet on 11 June. This is what he said on Twitter: "I've reached a point in my mind where I believe that I'm equal to a white man. Some of my people, together with whites, hate me for that because in their minds white men are superior and none of us the conquered should dare behave like we are equal to them."

He discovered that only now? Many whites deeply resent Malema, but only the lunatic fringe and the mentally disturbed would think he is not their absolute equal as a human being. In fact, most whites would probably agree that Malema is a highly intelligent and gifted politician, although they would add that he's wasting his talents on bad policies.

Some whites say they were keen on being part of a democratic state where the majority would govern, but that the abuse of power, maladministration and corruption of the governments since 1994 have turned them into racists because whites are still blamed for the continued inequality, poverty and most other ills in society.

I get that this would frustrate white people, but if they had no racism in their hearts to start off with, they would have known that the ANC's failures can't be blamed on skin colour but rather on history, human failure and political culture.

We are still getting to know each other in this country. For example, my immediate gut reaction to the Ashwin Willemse saga was probably not very different from that of most whites. But then I listened to what others who had been recipients of racism and whose opinion I trust, people like Danny Titus, Jonathan Jansen and Ferial Haffajee said about it and I got a different perspective.

I'm still learning to listen better.

I think on a personal, one-on-one basis, black and white South Africans get along much better than before. But when we operate in a group context, we retreat into our different trenches and fire shots at each other.

We're only a year away from a general election. Populism will get much worse in the run-up.

We all should expose the peddlers of racial hatred, but not in a way that encourages even more intolerance. Fighting racism with racism just produces more racism.

As a white South African, my priority is to fight racism in the community I was born into. Without white prejudice, black bigotry will struggle to find traction.

But don't expect me to shut up when I see racial prejudice in people other than whites. I'll be respectful and choose my words carefully, but I won't keep quiet.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    eff  |  ashwin willemse  |  julius malema  |  racism

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