Apart from other traumatic events, the past week will be remembered for two very public tantrums.
Both made worldwide news because they threw the choices facing South Africa into sharp relief. And both were characterized by a retreat into racial insults as an alternative to logic and reasoned debate.
One was the confrontation between ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema and BBC journalist Jonah Fisher. The other was the confrontation between AWB secretary general Andries Visagie and political analyst Lebohang Pheko.
Confrontations like these make South Africans anxious, because they symbolize the ever-present danger of a retreat into conflicting racial nationalisms.
But the fact that the majority of South Africans express this anxiety is actually good news. It shows that most of us do not want this kind of future, because it can produce no winners. Moments like these are actually important because they mobilize the moderate majority into realizing that we have to work towards a non-racial alternative, where everyone has the opportunity of a decent education and a job, and where everyone protects each other's rights.
Crises tend to galvanise South Africans. We turn them into opportunities to face the real issues, and make the right choices.
But first we must understand precisely what these choices are. We know which option we want to avoid. It is symbolized by both Malema and Visagie.
Malema's sinister tantrum, and resort to racial insults, has been analysed in every newspaper, and from every angle. Visagie's outburst, and its context, warrants closer scrutiny.
Many people who have seen the relevant footage have concluded, incorrectly, that Visagie and Pheko represent the alternative choices facing South Africa. They do not.
They both represent the same option. In the short snippet available on the internet, their confrontation proceeds like this:
Pheko: You versus us.
Visagie: But can't you understand that we have our own history, our own culture, our own language, our own religion.
Pheko: From your perspective, Mr Visagie, and it's a very narrow perspective.
Visagie: It is not a perspective, it is a real fact.
Pheko: do you care about the starving millions of African people in this country?
Visagie: I care more....
Pheko:Do you care about the farm workers who are being oppressed in this country?
Visagie: I care....
Pheko: Do you care....
Visagie: No, no, no, don't interrupt me. I am finished.
At this point Visagie rips off his lapel microphone, issues an expletive, and ends up in a confrontation with the show's presenter, Chris Maroleng.
What struck me, when I watched this snippet on You Tube, was the sad fact that talk shows often fail to present the real alternatives facing South Africa. They make it seem as if opposing racial nationalisms are the only choices South Africans have.
The truth is that the ANC elite, behind the mask of race rhetoric, cares as little for the poor and dispossessed as the AWB. Following the example of Robert Mugabe, the network of connected ANC cronies is taking South Africa down the pathway of corruption and criminalization towards the failed state. In the failed state, the poor always suffer most, while the corrupt elite accumulate more and more wealth.
This trajectory is destroying South Africa's capacity to grow the economy and create jobs. It is undermining education. The ANC elite actually know this. That is why they are so desperate to disguise their delivery failures. They are doing this by turning a racial minority into a political scapegoat.
Race mobilization is the only card the ANC has left. It will seek every opportunity to use it. Ethnic mobilization is the only card the AWB has ever played.
They both represent the future that South Africa's moderate majority wants to avoid.
We have to build the political vehicle that will enable South Africans to choose the real alternative. We are well on our way, but there is a long way to go.
In the next few years, we must work towards realigning politics to bring together all South Africans (who currently find themselves in many different parties) into one powerful political force that crosses racial boundaries and offers the alternative to racial nationalism.
We must win elections in more provinces and, eventually, nationally. Winning is not an end in itself. It is necessary to implement the policies that are necessary to make our democracy work and ensure the promised better life for all South Africans.
That is the vision we must all work for - every day, wherever we are and whatever we do.
This article by Helen Zille first appeared in SA Today, the weekly online newsletter of the leader of the Democratic Alliance.
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