The ANC's Xenophobic Double-Speak

2015-02-23 17:21

Phumzile Van Damme during 2014's SONA (CityPress)

One of the takeaways from Jacob Zuma’s reply to the debate on his State of the Nation Address (‘SONA’) was his partial denunciation of xenophobia. In a speech touted as politically masterful, even if substantively lacking, Zuma said:

‘‘The recent tragic and unacceptable incidents of violence and the looting of shops of foreign nationals in Soweto were a reminder of the need to support local entrepreneurs and eliminate possibilities for criminal elements to exploit local frustrations … We condemn attacks on foreign nationals and there can be no justification for that type of conduct in any community in our country…’’

But, by not calling it xenophobia its impact is diluted. So too, is attributing blame to criminal elements, rather than political opportunism. After all, it was one of his own Cabinet Ministers, Lindiwe Zulu, who said:

“Foreigners need to understand that they are here as a courtesy and our priority is to the people of this country first and foremost. A platform is needed for business owners to communicate and share ideas. They cannot barricade themselves in and not share their practices with local business owners.”

The contrast between occurrences like these tells us that the ANC remains ambivalent, at best, and duplicitous, at worst. Zulu’s comments aside, this is no better demonstrated by the behavior of Ace Magashule, Premier of the Free State.

During the debate, Magashule interrupted DA National Spokesperson Phumzile Van Damme, MP, to call a point of order. This parliamentary mechanism is used to bring a breach of the rules to the attention of the chair. Much to South Africa’s mortification, and Van Damme’s justifiable anger (earning him a sharp ‘sies’ from her), Magashule suggested that Van Damme was not a South African and thus her contribution was in breach.

The attack is unsurprising. In 2014, a leading Sunday newspaper made a front page allegation that Van Damme intentionally lied about her citizenship so as to become an MP. As the paper alleged, Van Damme was born in Swaziland, not Nelspruit, South Africa. Van Damme’s painful justification of the circumstances of her birth are reflective of the experiences of many black South Africans’ difficulties under Apartheid.

That Magasgule should use it to score political points is abhorrent. More so when the intention is not to unearth illegality (a legitimate aim) but to undermine an opponent politically (effectively on utilising an otherising form of discrimination to do so).

Magasgule’s offence, and Zuma’s silence, is the kind of conduct we should see less of from our political class. It is the kind of conduct that, when emulated by wider society informs the nub of much race-based hate. It should be recognised for what it is and deplored.

After all, as the President was only too happy to remind everyone, the Freedom Charter and the Constitution tells us that South Africa belongs to all those who live in it. The ANC, and its leaders, should do well to remember that too.

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