EFF the main winner from the Racism debate

2016-01-11 14:19

Racism is unacceptable and needs to be addressed in our country to promote healing. For me, this goes without saying. Instead of focusing on the racism debate itself, this piece considers the potential winners and losers to emerge from the renewed focus on racism in SA. The main losers will be people who are stupid enough to continue with racist comments – they will be shut down, lose their jobs, lose their clients. In the short-term, the poor and unemployed could be unintended losers as attention is diverted from addressing their plight through better policies, improved delivery and reduced inefficiency (including corruption). In my view, the main winners from the debate are likely to be the EFF who are the only party that can aggressively address the shortcomings of Government with regard to poverty and unemployment without being labelled racists.

Since a real estate agent in Durban named Penny Sparrow ignited the racism debate in SA with a vile Facebook posting about people enjoying beaches on New Year’s Day, a number of heads have rolled. Her former employee, Jawitz Properties, took action against her, the DA distanced themselves from her and criminal charges were laid against her. Another beach commenter, Justin van Vuuren, lost a sponsorship for his gym. An internal process has been started against Velaphi Khumalo after calling for black South Africans to do to white people what “Hitler did to the Jews”. Most recently, Nicole de Klerk lost her job after alleged racist comments at the Queen’s Plate Horseracing event. What is surprising and heartening to me is that despite this issue being top of mind in SA over the past week, the instances of blatant racism identified have been fairly limited (despite exhaustive searches by the Twitter Mob, I am sure) .

What has been more interesting and disturbing to many is how this debate has tainted pronouncements by high profile South Africans, which are far removed from racism, but have been considered insensitive in the current environment. Jo-Ann Strauss had her life threatened after tweeting that ““It's not what you call me, but what I answer to that counts.” an African Proverb #PennySparrow”;  Chris Hart was suspended as Standard Bank economist after tweeting ”More than 25 years after Apartheid ended, the victims are increasing along with a sense of entitlement and hatred towards minorities….”; and Gareth Cliff was fired as judge of SA Idols after defending free speech in the context of the Penny Sparrow saga.

It is clear that the main losers from the racism debate will be racists, especially those that choose not to put a guard in front of their mouths. Whether or not racist speech is banned (hate speech is already banned in SA), such racists will be shut down by the people of SA. They will lose their jobs, they will lose their clients and they will become public pariahs.

A more interesting consequence of the racism debate is that it may be used to label critics of Government as racists, possibly reducing the effectiveness of their criticism. Already, the DA has been called racist for a billboard commenting on joblessness under President Jacob Zuma’s ANC government. It is likely that such name calling of critics will continue. Some of the name calling will likely be warranted, but some of it may be used as a diversionary tactic to distract from poor delivery and other issues. As a result, it may become more difficult for an opposition party such as the DA to continue gaining support (in especially black communities) ahead of the municipal elections this year.

If the racism debate is effective at muzzling critics of government policy and if government does not take concrete steps to improve delivery, especially on the employment front, the poor and unemployed could be unintended losers of the racism debate. This would be especially true if the racism debate becomes an important vote garnering narrative ahead of the elections, instead of service delivery, job creation, education, crime and electricity supply.

The weak rand that SA is experiencing post the most recent credit downgrade, the Nene debacle and in the context of low commodity prices and rising US interest rates, could potentially be an opportunity for our country. This weakness could be used to bolster industrial production in our country, boost exports and create much needed jobs. It would be a shame if Government does not make job creation the number one priority in our country immediately (and the number one priority in the President’s State of the Nation Address). What we really need is a Minister of Employment who will stand and fall based on changes in our unemployment numbers and is given the power to co-ordinate across all spheres of government and the private sector. It would be a shame if the racism debate is used to distract from this meaningful opportunity.

Such a distraction would play right into the hands of the main likely winners from the racism debate, the EFF. The poor, the unemployed and the youth offer the greatest opportunity for the EFF to grow its constituency. The EFF is the only party that can aggressively criticise Government and promise delivery on employment, poverty alleviation, land redistribution and nationalisation, whilst at the same time supporting a strong anti racism stance. Whilst Government may use the racism debate to build support ahead of the elections and the DA tries to use criticism of Government, but being labelled racist, the EFF can use both narratives effectively to build support aggressively.

Although an EFF government could do a great deal to alleviate poverty and unemployment in the short-term in SA, there are doubts about their ability to sustain such an improvement in the long-term. There are meaningful risks of spiralling government debt, capital flight and huge reductions in sustainable tax revenues following the implementation of the EFF's stated populist policies. The best outcome from my point of view is that the growth in the EFF support places increasing pressure on Government to address the elephant in the room, unemployment. If the ANC government (with or without coalitions with the DA in selected areas) are unable to effectively deal with unacceptable unemployment in SA (and soon), we are heading towards a populist future in SA, with all of the associated risks.

I reject racism and I will not tolerate it in my spheres of influence. That is a given. I am a proud and patriotic South African and I want to see the best for its future. I believe we are heading in the wrong direction, especially when it comes to unemployment, but also in areas such as education, electricity supply, crime and healthcare. I urge all concerned South Africans to speak out about problems in our country, but please do this in a sensitive and non-racial way. Do not fuel the flames of racism.

We need to focus our attention aggressively on alleviating unemployment and poverty, unless we want to face a future of expropriations, skyrocketing tax rates, low economic growth, collapsing currency and racial strife. The time is now.

What is your take on the racism debate? Are you worried that it may distract from other pressing issues in SA, including unemployment? Do you agree that the EFF will be the main winner from the racism debate? Are you worried about the EFF? I would love to hear your feedback. Comments are welcome on my website.

In the mean time, keep your talking straight!

#RacismMustFall #EFF #Unemployment

Marius Strydom is the CEO of MLAX Consulting



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