Mmusi Maimane | Brackenfell: Race relations are taking profound strain due to poor leadership

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Parents and EFF members clash at Brackenfell High School last week.
Parents and EFF members clash at Brackenfell High School last week.
Jaco Marais

If we don’t act, our nation will suffer to populists and we can brace ourselves for a President Donald Trump moment - built on discrimination, anger and exclusion, writes Mmusi Maimane.

All eyes have been on Brackenfell High School this week and many were shocked to see the violence which occurred outside the school premises. 

EFF members, who protested outside the school, were violently and disproportionately assaulted by parents and security guards, the language and the nature of the attacks left many with a sour taste in their mouths, the images painful reminders of darker periods in South Africa's history.

The truth is Brackenfell - like Senekal and many other instances - is not the cause of racism, it's the symptom. And it's worth considering why such matters will continue to flare up all across our nation.

READ | Opinion: Brackenfell High: We cannot pretend this day wasn't going to come

1994 symbolised a miracle for South Africa. A society so deeply divided - racially, economically, linguistically - banded together and ended structural, legislated racism. Led by the iconic Nelson Mandela on the back of Codesa, we ushered in a new, diverse and formally equal society.

While the grand project of structural racism and oppression has fallen, we still grapple with how we can deal with its reoccurrence among day-to-day interactions. Under Mandela's great leadership it is forgivable that many believed that all racists and the racial anger disappeared amid the euphoria of 1994. But in truth this was only the beginning of a long and uncomfortable process of surgically removing racism from our national psyche. 

Apartheid spatial plannning 

The place we most failed to address was the economic and education inclusion project. Apartheid spatial infrastructure ensured that our neighbourhoods were racial characterised, and our schools sadly though the adoption of feeder education also followed suit. This was (as largely remains) a sort of educational "redlining". And it leads to tension and often results in a Brackenfell High School-type of conflict.

It was then imperative that reconciliation and its associated imperatives needed to transform our education system and we needed to do more in our economy. Consequently, Brackenfell is occurring and more like it will come.

It speaks to our broad anger at the stagnation of this project without leadership and feels like since the death of Mandela we are no longer morally required to at least try achieve reconciliation. This is anger simmering and will continue if no leader leads this and we just wait for various manifestation be it Brackenfell, Senekal, Clicks, traffic lights or our kitchens or braai areas.

We would be naive if we assumed these racial flare-ups were isolated incidents. In reality, they are evidence that have been refusing to confront the rage that is lingering below the surface of all our politics. This failure to ventilate and address the anger in our nation is one that could have perilous outcomes.

READ | Mmusi Maimane: We must reject race and culture wars

The rise of President Donald Trump was fuelled by the anger and frustrations of the Americans who felt excluded from the American Dream. They found in Trump a champion who would fight for them, who would confront the establishment.

This anger was not created by Trump, it was exploited by him. More than 70 million Americans still stuck with him even as the economic gains of the earlier years were eroded by the pandemic, even as it cost more than 200 000 lives. They stuck with him in a large part out of those emotions of anger and frustration. Same with Brexit, Bolsanaro and many others.

We must disavow ourselves from anger as a tool of political discourse. Anger is not a rational state of being, and it is not the best framework for decision-making, the Bible even says "do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the bosom of fools". 

We are deeply angry as a nation, and we are angry for different reasons, the frustrations are beginning to show on the streets and in our political camps.

We must take care to examine why this anger exists and how we can move past it, otherwise every event will escalate into more and more conflict, driving people deeper into their diametrically opposed political camps. We cannot afford this political direction and we must truly work towards addressing the underlying issues in a mature and solution-driven manner.

Reconciliation project

This is why I propose the reconciliation project needs to be placed front and centre of the government's agenda and is met with capable leadership.

Much like when the HIV/Aids crisis was at its peak and the Presidency exuded leadership for the nation's benefit. Back then, we had a project on moral regeneration and this was a role given to the deputy president despite it being Jacob Zuma.

I argue we are back here and perhaps now more than ever the Presidency and more specifically the deputy president must take the lead in Reconciliation 2.0. We are destroying race relations in our country and we cannot wait anymore.

READ | Analysis: Brackenfell incident: Where is our country's leadership

Co-ordination is required to engage the institutions such the Equality Court and SA Human Rights Commission to deal with incidents of racism. Each time we experience a Clicks saga or a Brackenfell we are reminded of how powerful would it if the Presidency could engage, lead and remind us of the value of achieving reconciliation. We will not win settling race issue on the streets.

In this light, I propose we create a charter in every school, that every pupil is required to sign. A fresh commitment to building inclusive and diverse learning environments. This is about having a constant reminder that we are better together. In terms of educating the nation, we must annually hold a dialogue about how we build race relations in South Africa.

If we don't act, our nation will suffer to populists and we can brace ourselves for a President Trump moment - built on discrimination, anger and exclusion.

- Mmusi Maimane is Chief Activist of the One South Africa Movement

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