Malema’s incendiary comments a red flag to us all

Mmusi Maimane says white racism, nurtured by inequality, opens way for racial populism

Malema’s incendiary comments should serve as a red flag to us all

“We are not calling for the slaughter of white people, at least for now…” Julius Malema’s comments, made on Monday 7 November after appearing in the Newcastle Magistrate’s Court on two charges of violating the Riotous Assemblies Act of 1957 for urging land invasions, are hugely irresponsible given that Malema is an influential public figure. This racially charged rhetoric, suggesting that the slaughter of white people may become necessary in the future, is reckless incitement and should be strongly condemned by all South Africans.

We at the DA reject it outright as being divisive, dangerous and entirely against the national interest. Accordingly, the DA has reported him to the SA Human Rights Commission for investigation and recourse, and they have confirmed that they will address the matter.

The proliferation of social media has highlighted many incidents of overt racism in our society, including Penny Sparrow’s offensive racist remarks, Malema’s incendiary comments and the “coffin assault” incident, in which two white men forced a black man into a coffin and threatened to set it alight for trespassing on their property.

All of these instances are the most visible examples of a pervasive racism that still persists in South Africa today. These actions betray their perpetrators’ ignorance of our history and ingratitude for our 1994 consensus. They are extremely insulting and hurtful towards black people, the vast majority of whom still suffer the daily hardships and indignities of a society that still locks them out and denies them opportunity. And where they are aimed at white South Africans, they are also hurtful and provide fertile ground for fear and bitterness.

We must capacitate the current legislation, the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (PEPUDA), to punish and deter perpetrators of racism. But the DA rejects the proposed Hate Speech Bill, a bad piece of legislation with good intentions. It is unconstitutional in that it curbs freedom of expression. It could even be used to abuse the judicial system to promote political and personal agendas.

While Malema’s comments are unacceptable, it is also true that they are rooted in very real and painful social realities that South Africa can and must address as a matter of great urgency. That is the only way to ensure a peaceful, non-racial future.

Because the fact is, our government has failed to redress Apartheid’s legacy. It has failed to reduce race-based inequality and open up opportunities for black people to get ahead in life. It has failed to take on SADTU, whose vice-like grip on our education system is strongest and most destructive in our poorest schools. It has failed to adequately fund higher education for poor, black students. It has failed in its efforts at effective land reform. It has failed to provide the policy coherence and political stability that would inspire confidence in investors. And it has thus failed to produce inclusive, job-creating economic growth.

And so while apartheid may be history, the racism that nurtured and sustained it continues to this day, itself nurtured and sustained by persistent race-based inequality. It opens the way for populists such as Malema and Zuma to practice divisive, race-based identity politics in their quest for power. Just a few days ago, Edward Zuma, the president’s son, said: “We want economic liberation and if it means…. we have to fight for it and kill people, so be it. We will kill people to attain this economic liberation”.

Our interim constitution stated: “This Constitution provides a historic bridge between the past of a deeply divided society characterised by strife, conflict, untold suffering and injustice, and a future founded on the recognition of human rights, democracy and peaceful coexistence and development opportunities for all South Africans, irrespective of colour, race, class, belief or sex.”

We must continue to cherish this ideal of a society in which race is not an important defining characteristic of people’s spatial distribution, economic circumstances or educational attainments. We cannot allow populist politicians to subvert our 1994 project of reconciliation. We cannot fight racism with more racism any more than we can fight hatred with more hatred. Rather, we must put our effort into demanding clean, accountable, responsive government that can open opportunities to all.

This article by Mmusi Maimane first appeared in Bokamoso, the online newsletter of the leader of the Democratic Alliance.