Racialised justice

John Kane-Berman on the double standards applied in cases of racial abuse and racial threat

Race: double standards and heartfelt invitations

The excessively heavy sentence imposed last week upon Vicki Momberg for crimen injuria serves to highlight the double standards that apply in South Africa over questions of racial abuse and racial threat. Convicted of having indulged in a racist tirade against police officers, Ms Momberg was given a two-year prison sentence without the option of a fine.

Yet repeated racist tirades against whites by Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), are effectively condoned by Cyril Ramaphosa, president of the country and of the African National Congress (ANC). "We would like to have Julius Malema back in the ANC," Mr Ramaphosa said during a voter registration drive in Pretoria last month." He is still ANC deep in his heart. So we would love to have those in the EFF back in the ANC, because the ANC is their home."

The invitation was echoed by the ANC's head of elections, Fikile Mbalula, and also by Mrs Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. The deputy president of the ANC, David Mabuza, said he had a special place in his heart for Mr Malema, who was expelled from the ANC by Mr Ramaphosa himself in 2012.

Mr Malema has reportappedly spurned Mr Ramaphosa's invitation. Perhaps he thinks it should come with a cabinet post. Yet the EFF leader seldom misses an opportunity to rail against whites, among his latest targets being whites supporting the Democratic Alliance (DA) mayor of Port Elizabeth, Athol Trollip. He sometimes cunningly backtracks, as when he said "we do not hate white people, we just love black people". No doubt he thought he was being equally clever when he said in November 2016 in Newcastle that "we are not calling for the slaughtering of white people, at least for now". These supposed qualifications do not remove the venom – and the menace – from what the EFF leader says.

"We are cutting the throat of whiteness." "Whites committed genocide." "No white person is the rightful owner of the land here in South Africa." "Whites are the enemy who stole our land."

The DA has struck bargains with the EFF to gain control of Johannesburg, Pretoria, and Port Elizabeth. These kinds of unsavoury deals have long been a feature of politics here and elsewhere when voters do not give any single party an absolute majority. Yet for Mr Ramaphosa to invite Mr Malema back into the ANC goes further. If the ANC really believed in the non-racialism which it routinely professes, its leader would not describe South Africa's serial practitioner of diatribes against whites as "ANC deep in his heart".  

A little over two years ago Penny Sparrow was forced to resign from the DA after referring to blacks as monkeys. If she were now to be invited to rejoin that party in the way that Julius Malema is being invited to rejoin the ANC, all hell would break loose in the media. The ANC and the EFF would outdo one another in working themselves up into furious cadenzas. Managers of parliamentary business would promise to "fast-track" the latest version of the Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill through Parliament.

Yet when Mr Ramaphosa invites Mr Malema to rejoin the ANC, there is barely a murmur.

The conclusion is inescapable. It is far more risky for an ordinary white person to describe blacks in abusive and injurious terms than for a black person in a position of leadership to keep on issuing threats against whites. Mr Ramaphosa has no doubt calculated that it would be to his party's advantage to have Julius Malema back. This despite the land invasions the EFF organises, and the vandalism to which the EFF is prone.  

No doubt President Ramaphosa calculates that the EFF will do less harm to the ANC come the 2019 election if it is inside rather than outside the tent. But perhaps he also believes that in their heart of hearts the ANC and the EFF belong together ideologically.

* John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the IRR, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom.