The Danger Of Racial Nationalism, Professor George Devenish
Racial tension bubbles constantly in South Africa’s national discourse. In this column Professor George Devenish examines how it is being fuelled by the EFF. He also raises the challenges faced by the new president Cyril Ramaphosa to right the economic ship after the disaster of the Zuma presidency.
As South African political parties begin to prepare for the 2019 general election there are indications of the fierce election campaign that will be waged by such parties. For some time now the EFF has been propagating a political philosophy of what can be defined as racial nationalism. This is the very antithesis of non-racialism as set out in section 1 of the Constitution which declares that the South African state is based on inter alia the values of ‘non-racialism and non-sexism’. Non-racialism is also propounded in the legendary Freedom Charter. The EFF’s campaign will undoubtedly reflect that of its credo - racial nationalism. This is manifestly made clear from the conduct of its chief whip and MP, Floyd Shivambu, from his statements and conduct in the Standing Committee on Finance of Parliament, as reported by News 24 wire of June 4, 2018. In his participation in the debate in this Committee on Finance he accused a senior and highly respected Treasury Official Mr Ismail Momoniat of being ‘non-African’.
As a result, the parliamentary committee correctly described Shivambu’s comments as a ‘crude attack’ and has defended Momoniat by stating that, in unequivocal terms, he is an ‘extremely hardworking, honest [and] skilled official’. The incident was reported in Business Day, according to which, Shivambu accused Momoniat of having a ‘superior complex which would not allow him to take orders from his African seniors’. Shivambu subsequently repeated similar derogatory statements on social media, alleging that Momoniat ‘undermines and disregards black, particularly African leadership’. This is a manifestation of racial nationalism, which it is submitted does inordinate damage to sound race relations in South Africa, which President Ramaphosa has recently poignantly pleaded for and committed the ANC to, in a meeting of the National Editors Forum on May 25, 2018 as extensively reported in the media. Although the language used by Shivambu is protected by parliamentary privilege his comments in the media are, it is submitted, prima facie defamatory of Momoniat, which a subsequent statement by the Committee described as unwarranted and inconsistent with the ‘non-racial principles necessary for a transformative agenda that addresses race, class and gender in South Africa’.
It is submitted that this kind of racial nationalism, which often is accompanied by hate speech, poses a singular danger to social cohesion, nation building and sound race relations. Mere condemnation and censure is not enough. It is time for action to be taken and for Shivambu’s conduct to be challenged in the Courts. This is the second incident of a racial nature involving this turbulent politician. On March 3 he was caught on video assaulting a white photographer and journalist, Adrian de Kock, outside the houses of Parliament. Although he subsequently apologised and admitted his behaviour was unacceptable he appears to have no intention of changing his aggressive and indeed fascist conduct. The National Editors’ Forum and National Press Club both criticised Shivambu’s conduct saying it was unacceptable for a Member of Parliament to intimidate a journalist. De Kock said he would lay a criminal complaint following the altercation. Shivambu appears to have become a law unto himself and an embarrassment even to his own party since he has been upbraided for his conduct by his leader Julius Malema! For this reason he needs to be taught a lesson and action taken against him in parliament and the courts.
The Committee indicated in no uncertain terms that there is no shred of evidence that Momoniat is corrupt, as Shivambu claimed. On the contrary the Committee also affirmed him to be ‘an experienced official who served both the anti-apartheid struggle and the new democracy selflessly’. These were the words and sentiments of the Committee chair, Yunus Carrim. The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation executive director, Neeshan Balton, also denounced Shivambu’s reckless statement as ‘profoundly racist, politically reckless and highly inflammatory and declared that ‘Momoniat’s contribution to the anti-apartheid struggle is exemplary and sincere’ (Home/News/SA News by Sane Dhlamini 7 June).
Although the Committee urged MPs not to exacerbate the growing racial polarisation in the country, the EFF subsequently issued a statement in support of Shivambu, in which it castigated Momoniat for his role, according to it, in acting as the ‘de facto minister of finance’ and thereby, according to their statement, ‘dictating everything that the National Treasury does’.
The EFF and its leader Julius Malema have virtually from the inception of this party been fuelling racial nationalism with their hate speech such as his notorious and inflammatory statement that he ‘invoked his own authority to call his devotees not to slaughter the whites yet’. This, with the EFF’s encouragement to its members and others to perpetrate illegal land grabs, are prime examples of conduct facilitating an atmosphere conducive to racial nationalism.
Unfortunately as a country we are an inordinately economically unequal society. It is this inequality that needs to be addressed with the urgency it deserves. Failure to address inequality holistically renders our constitutional and political system unstable and indeed has the potential to destroy our system of democratic government in a violent and revolutionary manner. The political creed of racial nationalism can so easily be used by the EFF and their ilk to foment violent dissent protest and even insurrection. The unequal distribution of land and the history of dispossession is an important issue in this regard, but most certainly not the only one. Inequality as a whole must be addressed with urgency.
Most unfortunately, the nearly 10 years of the Zuma presidency and administration has, because of its essentially corrupt and incompetent nature, exacerbated economic inequality in South Africa and facilitated the rise of racial nationalism as is prevalent in the EFF. This kind of racial nationalism is committed to total African domination in every sphere and aspect of government and society and rejects non-racialism and national reconciliation. It is manifestly reflected in the conduct of the Black First Land First Party and certain elements within the defeated Zuma faction of the ANC. It would involve cadre deployment of an extreme nature.
It is submitted that the only realistic and feasible solution to the serious problem of gross economic inequality for the Ramaphosa administration is that as explained by Ray Hartley in his insightful biography of our new President entitled The Man Who Would be King. In this he states that Ramaphosa must find a way to bring meaningful growth back to the South African economy not by words but by deeds.
A powerful growth-driven economy is the only realistic option for the multiple problems we as nation face in relation to economic inequality, and the poverty and social injustice that still blights South Africa. It is also essential to retain and further develop our constitutional democracy and the freedom and human dignity it has brought to us as a nation, which racial nationalism has the potential to seriously damage or even destroy.