In his speech at the Chris Hani memorial service on Monday, Jacob Zuma stated that last week’s protests proved that “racism is real in our country” and that “it is clear some of our white compatriots regard black people as lesser human beings or sub-human.”
It’s the same old, same old, the Ace up the sleeve, when all other options fail, blame racism and apartheid and after defeat is conceded life can carry on as usual.
However, the ANC and Zuma need to start asking themselves, “How much longer can we use this rhetoric to get us out of trouble?” Who can forget when in 2012, Zuma blamed Hendrick Verwoerd as the reason schools in Limpopo were not receiving textbooks?
In an interview with 702’s Redi Thlabi he stated, "What is happening today is what Verwoerd did, where the black majority were historically not given education. We are dealing with a system that had put black people back for centuries."
Then, in 2014, speaking at the ANC’s 103rd birthday bash, Zuma stated that apartheid was responsible for the then energy crisis, when it was clearly apparent that the near disaster of our country living without electricity was a result of the mismanagement and corruption of Eskom’s board of directors. “There’s a belief out there that the electricity challenge is a result of the failure of government or lack of leadership,” he stated. “It is not – the economy of apartheid was racially skewed and structured to take care of the minority and not the majority.” Whenever the chips are down, the easy way out for Zuma and the ANC is to blame apartheid and racism.
After 23 years of democracy this message is starting to become redundant and we are actually seeing it start to backfire on the party. The general consensus of the public is, “Not again.” In fact, by labelling the protests as, “proof of racism”, is doing nothing but reinforcing the idea that black people are “stooges (a word used by Mandela when describing the DA’s attitude to black people)” and that those who attend the protests, are merely following the orders of their “white superiors.”
The ANC is hanging on for dear life to this rhetoric as it knows that in order to survive and continue being the freedom-fighting-liberation-movement it has built its name on, it needs the apartheid social structure to remain intact. If their supporters accept that apartheid is over and that everyone is equal and we are all South Africans, the ANC will have to find different ways to keep the support of the people. By getting away with the same rhetoric for 23 years the ANC has become lazy and they find themselves in the position where they now lack the imagination to create new messages that can appeal to the new generation of South Africans who never lived through apartheid and who cannot relate to this rhetoric.
White people are also finding themselves in a unique position. Over the last 23 years of democracy it is not often they have found the confidence and will to unite, en masse, with the rest of South Africa and add their voice to the cause. However, this has resulted in them being caught in a Catch-22 situation. Hanging over their heads is the probability that their involvement jeopardises the effectiveness of the protests. White people’s faces in a protest provide an easy target to immediately label the protests as racist and therefore, detract from the overall effectiveness of the protest. Their voice is definitely the first on the list to be silenced. “Now this thing of being shown the middle finger everywhere by white people because they’ve gained a new confidence must come to an end,” Ekhurleni Mayor, Mzwandile Masina said when speaking at the Chris Hani memorial in Boksburg. “I want to say to our white counterparts in South Africa,” he continued. “They must be very, very careful.”
This follows German journalist Konrad Heiden’s old adage, “Always strike the minority - for when the minority is punished, it is guilty in the eyes of the masses.” But again, the question looms, “Can these old propaganda and revolutionary techniques survive in South African society today?”
The message needs to reach the ANC they must stop taking these protests personally and to stop assuming the goal of these protests is to overthrow the government and put an opposition party in power. Instead people are protesting in the best interests of the ANC. At the opposition parties’ protest at the Union Buildings on Wednesday, Julius Malema shouted over the microphone, “This is not a march against the ANC but against Zuma.” People are desperate for the party to regain its inherent ideals, which are ideals everyone in South Africa believes in.
We all want to live in a free, non-racist democracy – a democracy many ANC stalwarts spent their lives fighting for and then to see the ANCYL behave the way they did at Ahmed Kathrada’s memorial is an indication of just how far the ANC has lost its way.
One thing is certain, Zuma is (one way or another) coming to the end of his tenure and the ANC needs to start preparing for the post-Zuma era. Once he is gone, the first thing that will need to be done is to pick up the pieces from out the rubble and debris and figure out how to go about rebuilding the party and taking it into the future.
South Africa is quickly moving into the next phase and the days of the ANC instinctively pulling the “race card” is coming to an end. The days of blaming racism or apartheid on their shortcomings is not going to “fly” with this new generation – they expect and deserve more. Jacob Zuma is right when he says “racism is real,” but he must remember that by blaming racism he is in fact promoting racism and that the people of South Africa are not falling for it anymore.