NEWS & ANALYSIS

Turd polishing by the BBC

Andrew Donaldson says there are no shortage of apologists available to explain away the ANC's racialism

The trouble with Glen Snyman is that he doesn’t know his place. Others unfortunately believe they do, and as far as they’re concerned, this Oudtshoorn  primary school teacher fraudulently claimed to be African in a job application when he is, in fact, coloured. Accordingly, the Western Cape Education Department decided to haul his less-than-black backside before a disciplinary circus, claiming he “committed a common law offence, to wit fraud, by stating on your CV when applying for the principal post at Fezekile Secondary School that you are an African male, whereas in truth your records indicate that you are a coloured male and by doing so gain an advantage for purposes of being shortlisted”.

Snyman fired off his unsuccessful application in 2017. That charges were only levelled against him this week, almost three years later, suggests a degree of malice and heaps of schoolyard spite. The teacher’s activism may have had something to do with it. A bit of an idealist, Snyman has, since 2010, campaigned vigorously against the continued use of racial pigeonholing on official documentation. In addition to launching a non-aligned pressure group, People Against Race Classification, he has circulated a petition declaring: “I don’t regard myself as a ‘Coloured’, ‘Black’, ‘Indian’, or ‘White’ person. I regard myself, first and foremost, as a South African.”

Following a spot of adverse publicity, and perhaps the realisation that Snyman’s position in this regard dovetails somewhat with the DA’s own stated commitment to non-racialism, the charges have now been withdrawn.

In what strategists at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”) refer to as a classic reverse ferret, Western Cape education MEC Debbie Schafer swiftly issued a statement that she was shocked that her own department was staffed with racial obsessives who want to sanction teachers over how they classify themselves. “If this is in fact the case,” Schafer said, “it is anathema to me. And we will not tolerate victimisation of people who do not conform to an artificial and arbitrary classification of who they are deemed to be.”

One hopes, then, that Schafer is lying down on a comfortable couch with smelling salts at the ready when she learns of the demented bureaucracy her teachers face should they choose to reclassify themselves. According to provincial education department spokeswoman Bronagh Hammond, the regulations stipulate that such people must officially apply for permission to do so. She told TimesLive: “If any employee wants to amend an existing personnel record currently on the [department’s] system (for example surname, gender, race, home address, etc), the request to update the record should be submitted to the Directorate: Service Benefits together with evidence that supports the requested change. Upon verification of the details, it may be amended on the system.”

Talk of “evidence” and race “verification” conjures up all the crude horrors of the past: underwear-sniffing officials with ugly shoes and Pantone swatches and pencils and callipers and slide rules and cuticle charts and who knows what else.

But, this being South Africa, there are no shortage of apologists when it comes to the new racism. Many believe Snyman has been trying to unfairly benefit from the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act, legislation intended to reverse decades of systemic discrimination with yet more systemic discrimination. They argue, somewhat disingenuously, that non-racialists are blind to racism and its consequences, and that extra, stabilising racism is needed for a more egalitarian society.

Pumza Fihlani, a local BBC reporter, had a bash at justifying all this in her “analysis” of the Snyman affair. Africans bore the brunt of apartheid discrimination, and policies such as BBBEE were meant to reverse “injustices whose severity were largely based on people’s race”. She writes:

“Simply, the further you were from looking white the worse it got. If you consider a ladder, black people or so called Africans were right at the bottom of the ladder. Coloured (or mixed-race) people and Indian people were placed higher on the race hierarchy under apartheid. This does not mean they were not discriminated against — but rather were preferred to Africans.

“In present-day South Africa, some have said transformation has been slow and the sharing of opportunities even slower. And so many institutions wanting to address inequality are paying more attention to who they hire — meaning the colour of their skin. They say this is not aimed at overlooking qualifications but simply at making sure that those people are not left out as has been the practice in the past.”

Race laws compel institutions to “address inequality” when it comes to hiring policies, and, contrary to what Fihlani and others may believe, race really does trump merit at such times. Transformation may or may not be “slow”, but it has certainly outstripped capability. Hence the deterioration of much of the state’s functions. 

In effect, inverting Fihlani’s race ladder creates a new hierarchy of entitlement based on race. If, as she suggests, brownish folk like Snyman were on the middle rungs back then, and didn’t get it in the neck quite as severely as black folk did, well, they’re still on the middle rungs. When it comes to racism, you can’t polish a turd, even if it is upside-down.

Huffing and puffing

IT’s early days yet, but it appears as if the uMkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association is coming off second best in its messy to-do with Fikile Mbalula, the shouty transport minister. 

It is a very pot-kettle-black business. At its heart is an unfortunate impasse: Gauteng MKMVA cadres want deployment on the trains as “security personnel” but, alas, there are no trains to speak of. All broken. Denied the opportunity to bother commuters for cooldrink money, the vets have demanded Mbalula be arrested to face charges relating to the collapse of the passenger services.

In response, the minister went fishwife. As a small person, Mbalula has learnt to compensate for his lack of stature by standing on chairs and screeching to get attention. Twitter is therefore an ideal medium, and Mbalula uses it to bombard followers with his scattered thoughts, inane jokes and selfies wearing strange hats and fussy clothes. So, on Monday, tiny digits a furious blur, he waded into the vets with a slew of nasty tweets, which he has since deleted.

The bitchkrieg, if I may, started simply enough: “Those thugs calling themselves Mk.” And then, in a broadside that hinted at frustration with ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule and the Zuptanic forces at HQ: “Karl Niehaus is a well known thug emplyed by Magashule at luthuli house.” (sic

This was followed by a reference to MKMVA president Kebby Maphatsoe’s physical disability: “Kebby maphatsoe ran away from the camps that is why he’s got one hand,He lost his hand from cowardice not in a fight against apartheid. COWARD” (sic)

This does seem a fairly low blow, even from one so short. But the truth of the matter is that, over the years, Maphatsoe’s missing limb has attained mythic status. Like the vengeful, decapitated wraith in the Warren Zevon mercenary balladRoland the Headless Thompson Gunner, it is forever “stalking through the night”. Hushed accounts of its adventures swirl in the space created by its absence. A grenade exploded in his hand. It was a car accident. He was wounded in a firefight. There have been jokes. Where does this guerrilla commander keep his army? Not up his sleevey, that’s for sure. 

There are wild allegations the limb was lost in a fragging incident. Maphatsoe was a cook at the MK’s Ngoma camp outside Kampala. Anyone who has eaten “military food” will know that a chef can be a greater threat to combatants’ lives than a junior officer with a map. Think about it. It was 1991. A formal ceasefire had been reached with the SADF the year before. Why now risk certain death with a Kebby curry surprise? The comrades, it’s said, wanted him out the kitchen, pronto.

Maphatsoe has denied this, and insists he was no slouch with a frying pan. In 2014, he told City Press he was “proud” of his skills. “To work in the kitchen in exile you must have been a trusted person, highly vetted,” he said. “Not everyone works in the kitchen, because you are taking care of the lives of our people. People don’t understand — they think if you were working in the kitchen you were useless.”

Besides cooking, he also claimed to be a combatant who saw action in Angola against Unita rebels. His detractors dismiss this. Like Mbalula, the EFF’s Julius Malema has mocked him as a deserter. “He went awol,” Malema told journalists in 2014. “Kebby was running into a dangerous farm of wild animals. The police had to shoot him to save him from wild and dangerous animals.” 

Maphatsoe has a different story. He didn’t run away. He and a group of MK combatants had merely left Ngoma without permission to travel to South Africa to complain to senior ANC officials about the camp’s “unbearable” conditions. Unfortunately, they were ambushed en route by Ugandan soldiers who mistook them for members of the Lord’s Resistance Army. He was badly wounded and lost his arm as a result. 

We digress, and back to Mbalula. His barrage of tweets continued with scant regard for diction or syntax. “They organise tired self defence units and they call themselves MK with old gupta sponsored camaflouge uniform its even warn out.” “Prasa was your milking cow,I have closed the taps that is my sin you used to do as wish with fake security companies. NINYILE” “Its ANC Vs Thugs who are covered in a sheep skin.” (All sic)

Niehaus, who fibs for the MKMVA, was singled out for personal attention: “Karl Niehaus faked the death of his own mother ,Faked death of his own mother ,faked death of his own mother today he is showing up with chicken audacity threatening everyone including the state.” (sic)

Touched on his fowl audacity, the champion of radical economic transformation shot back on Twitter: “Minister @MbalulaFikile the day you are an @MYANC veteran of 42 years, who served 10 years as a political prisoner for my membership of the #ANC & #MK you can dare to talk to me in this tone. You’re not worthy to walk in the old shoes of those MK cadres that you insulted.”

That showed him. Maybe. Still, Mbalula remained defiant, tweeting: “I’m not afraid of them; Jacob Zuma, Carl Niehaus, Kebby Maphatsoe, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, and Ace Magashule. That you must know.” 

We must know, too, that Mbalula served as a police and sports minister in the Zuma administration. He was until recently a fairly vocal supporter of Accused Number One. A small person, but big on self-preservation, he does know his blessers.

More military madness

Senekal owes its existence to the fact that farmers in the area found the 70-odd kilometres to Winburg a bit of a stretch, and they wanted to be closer to a town. Several petitions in this regard were addressed to the Orange Free State government, who finally relented on June 5, 1877, to give the folk what they wanted. The town was named after a Boer leader,  Commandant Frederik Petrus Senekal, who died in a skirmish with the Basotho in 1865. 

Now there is trouble in the area once more, and it seems as if forces are again massing against the farmers. As I write, the town appears to be in the hands of Julius Malema and his supporters. The EFF were there, ostensibly, to “defend public property and protect democracy”, Malema said on Thursday.  He did however add: “We are not going to fight anyone. We are going there peacefully, but you push, we push. We will not shoot anyone, we will not provoke anyone. Just don't push us …

If standing up to a white man makes me a thug, I’m a proud thug. If standing up to a white man makes me a fascist, I’m a proud fascist.”

Okay, he’s a proud fascist thug. Glad that’s settled. But Il Douche and sidekick Fraud Shivambu used the court appearance on Friday of farm manager Bendin Horner’s alleged killers as an opportunity to stir up as much hatred and chaos there as possible. There was predictably the usual nonsense about killing Boers and the customary trashing of public property. Anything, it seems, to antagonise white townsfolk, some of whom, admittedly, were spoiling for a fight as well.

Meanwhile, it does appear as if the ANC Youth League also wish to to be involved in the coming race war. The league’s Fezile Dabi branch is planning a military training camp in the coming weeks, and will be offering instruction in the handling of weapons, guerrilla tactics and political education. According to regional secretary Andile Mlambo, their proposed bush boot camp experience had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with events in Senekal — despite the fact that a poster announcing the training bears the hashtag: “#DownWithArrogantSenekalWhiteFarmers”.

Mlambo has brushed aside concerns about the camp, saying it was aimed at making the youth more “patriotic”. Besides, he added, there was no outcry over the “illegal military training and military camps initiated by the white minority”, so why the beef with them? 

Two points are worth bearing in mind. Playing soldiers and the like can end badly for all concerned. Consider events in Bophutatswana in 1994. And secondly, no military camp experience can ever be considered the real patriotic deal if Kebby is not in the kitchen.