President Cyril Ramaphosa en Dr Gerhard Koornhof look at an audience of Pretorian stakeholders and opinion formers at an ANC election event in Pretoria. Photo: Deaan Vivier
On Monday night President Cyril Ramaphosa's election caravan made its way to the Atterbury Theatre on Lynnwood Road in Pretoria to talk to around 400 mainly white Afrikaners about the ANC's prospects for the election.
His audience were concerned about many issues, obviously and including that old ANC corruption chestnut, but two narratives dominated: race and land.
Gert van der Walt told the president of his 8-year-old son who asked him on the way to school about "the man in the red beret" and white people's sins. "Can a whole race be found guilty, Mr President?" Van der Walt wanted to know.
Johan Erasmus, from an organisation called Betereinders ("A better end", as opposed to the Boer War moniker "bittereinders", or "to the bitter end"), asked about the "emergence of a new black nationalism" and queried Ramaphosa about it given the destruction wrought by Afrikaner nationalism.
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And Professor Jurie van Vuuren from the University of Pretoria asked for Ramaphosa's step-by-step guide on how expropriation without compensation is going to work.
Ramaphosa, speaking in a theatre with a giant mural of self-proclaimed volks-nationalist Steve Hofmeyr outside, acknowledged what many former members of the United Democratic Front in the ANC and in government have been saying for years: the ANC has drifted away from its non-racial character.
Under former president Jacob Zuma the ANC was dragged into playing the EFF's game of race-baiting and race politics and has been unable to avoid falling into the traps of politics of pigmentation, as evidenced by Ace Magashule warning voters about whites and their party.
"The ANC must continue preaching non-racialism. We are South Africans before we are anything else. Yes, there was a time where we weakened on this (non-racialism) and where coloured people in our movement told us they feel unwelcome… we were also told this by our Indian and white colleagues… the ANC must be non-racial," Ramaphosa said.
He explained that he would be reluctant to refer to "black nationalism" because whatever people want to call black self-confidence or black pride is rooted in an overriding sense of "South African-ness", which Ramaphosa seemed to suggest had nothing to do with race but rather with a feeling of nationhood.
"The difference between Afrikaner nationalism and… I don't want to call it African nationalism… is that it is underpinned by a 'South African-ness'. There is no way that one group will be put above another. Just because black people are affirming themselves does not mean one group will dominate another.
"Black people want transformation (of society) and they want to be acknowledged… but never, ever again will one group be considered better than the other; will a group be opressed like the Afrikaner nationalists did to others," Ramaphosa said.
And when someone shouted from the audience "what about the BLF?" Rampahosa equated Andile Mngxitama's outfit with the fringe Boeremag: "They're a voice in the wilderness!"
Addressing Van der Walt, Ramaphosa said no, a whole race cannot be found guilty for the sins of individuals. "There were individuals who did what they did (referring to apartheid) and acting together it became a problem."
Judging by the reaction afterwards, Ramaphosa struck a chord by equating black South Africans' feelings about land to Afrikaners' feelings about their language.
Answering Van Vuuren's question about land and expropriation he said land has always been important to black people and that returning it to the people was one of the founding aims of the ANC. "The call was 'mayibuye'… we want the land back. So, the issue of land lingers on… it is important to black people, as it is to white people."
If anyone should understand this, it should be Afrikaners. "Afrikaners carry a wound in their hearts about their language which they feel is being relegated to a lower position. I am prepared to address that… similarly black people have a wound about land," he explained.
The president spoke of capture, refusing to name the enablers and the facilitators, but the evening's dialogue and subsequent debate was all about race, disaffection and alienation.
Ramaphosa's campaign for the ANC leadership was built, in part, on a return to non-racialism. His advisers have consistently spoken of a return to UDF principles. And some of his key reformers in government and party have spoken of their frustration at the ANC's race drift.
But it wasn't only the ANC that had to up its game, Ramaphosa said. "When we have our national celebrations, like Freedom Day, and I look around the stadium I hardly see white people. We have to demonstrate our South African-ness… you should go to these events!"
Race, South Africa's intractable problem, remains.
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