Leon, Habib and racism

Douglas Gibson says people should respect each other's views without misrepresenting or twisting them

The world has gone bonkers about racism and it is encouraging racist feelings among all communities, both black and white.

I am a believer in the Rainbow Nation. South Africans get on well with each other and co-exist in peace and harmony. But a minority tries, by all means, to drive a wedge in and inflame racial feelings. Their agenda is to create mistrust and suspicion, promoting hatred for political purposes.

The USA killing of George Floyd by policeman Derek Chauvin was a disaster for race relations. George Floyd was a flawed individual, a criminal, and a drug user, but no human being deserves to be cruelly murdered.

Chauvin must be found guilty and be sentenced to a very long imprisonment. What fascinates is that despite the overwhelming evidence, a recent poll finds only 48% of voters believe he is guilty; 21% disagree and 31% are not sure. One can only guess, but it is a safe bet that most African Americans believe in Chauvin's guilt and most of those who believe he is not are white.

Floyd has become a hero worldwide, St George almost, but many whites cannot stomach his deification. Race seems to determine the feelings of many – perhaps unavoidably – but emotion should not oust facts. People should respect each other's views without misrepresenting them or twisting them.

In the UK we have seen the treatment meted out to Professor Adam Habib, former vice-chancellor of Wits University and current director of the prestigious School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

At a meeting with students, one of them complained about the use of the "N" word at the University. Habib immediately responded by saying that if the word "N....." was used it was totally against policy and was to be condemned in the strongest terms. This caused a storm, with Habib being told that only black people were permitted to use the word "n.....". To the utter amazement of sane, intelligent people, this rubbish was taken seriously. Habib is on suspension while the university enquires into Habib's use of the racist term. To me, this looks quite mad; it is woke gone crazy.

A recent South African example is equally mad. Tony Leon discussed Mmusi Maimane's leadership in his new book, "Future Tense- Reflections on my troubled land." He described Maimane's good points: "He was young...tall, handsome, highly articulate and extremely personable. He would also prove to be, aided by his background as a television performer and church preacher, highly telegenic. He radiated and personified non-racialism..."

Leon wrote further, "It is a good and necessary thing for a political movement to attract new recruits unless it wishes to remain a small cult of true believers. But to hand over the top post of the principal opposition party in the country to someone who has no background in, nor long-time sympathy with, its core conviction is reckless."

In a media interview about the book, Leon said that Maimane's leadership of the DA was an experiment that failed. All hell broke loose and the racists among us chose to ignore the obvious and clear context and meaning and twist it into an attack based on race and worse still, an attack on every black leader (of whom there are many) in the DA.

51 000 Twitterers condemned the remark and Maimane became a hero among those who had never and would never vote for him. Very few of the Twitterbots read Tony's book; most delightedly stirred the pot, raising racial tensions in the process. Many of them are cynical exploiters of racial feelings. The racists here and everywhere, should be ashamed of themselves.

Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and a former ambassador to Thailand. This article first appeared in The Star.