The Democratic Alliance (DA) needs to take much more seriously its role in the furore created by its Federal Youth Leader, Luyolo Mphithi, in helping to fuel the Schweizer-Reneke school “racism” incident.
We can put down his initial Tweet to youthful indiscretion and ignorance, a moment of hot-blooded idiocy, but the statement by National Spokesperson of the DA, Solly Malatsi, was very poor indeed (‘Schweizer-Reneke: We behaved responsibly – DA’, Politicsweb, 15 January).
Malatsi referred to the press conference by the accused teacher as showing ‘just how much work still needs to be done to build One South Africa for All’. He gives no explanation of what he means by this, but he seems to mean the teacher’s statement proved her racism.
The rest is just obfuscatory and dishonest; it could have been a press release by the ANC.
Malatsi goes on to say: ‘The fact that the country has been gripped by this incident is further illustration of a broader issue which we must address. The project of building a country that we all equally belong to is far from over. It requires leadership from all of us and not divisive partisanship.’
The country is gripped by the incident because, among other factors, the DA decided to go along with the mob, rather than stand against it, and then did nothing to pull back or remedy its mistake. It made no reference to Mphithi’s or its own errors of judgement in acting without the restraint necessary to avoid the risk of prejudging a situation.
“It is evident,’ Malatsi writes, ‘that a great deal of distress has been caused by some parties and organisations at the extremes of the political spectrum who have used this incident to divide and not unite us.”
This is utterly disingenuous. What did the DA think would happen if it joined the populist fray in labelling a white Grade R teacher a racist and segregationist on social media, and then in a press statement? The distress was caused by the ANC, the DA and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) milking the situation, regardless of the best interests of the children at the school.
It has also caused immense stress to the learners, their parents and to the teachers involved.
Luyolo Mphithi's original tweet and the DA's retweet of it (masking by PW):
But does Malatsi know what it was that caused immense stress to the learners? Does he know whether it was the alleged racism or the circus that ensued: The mob standing outside their school threatening violence, complete strangers descending on their school, their images being distributed widely on social media (then in the world's press) by the DA or others? Does the DA know the answers to this question, or is Malatsi just mouthing homilies?
‘In contrast to many others,’ he says, ‘the DA has always sought to act as responsibly as possible in relation to this matter.’
This is a lie and Malatsi shouldn’t peddle it. The DA did not act ‘as responsibly as possible’ and shouldn’t have said that it did. The minute Mphithi’s tweet of the photo of the children in the classroom (their faces unmasked) went viral on Twitter – mainly due to the DA retweeting it to their half a million followers on their official account – everything the DA did became irresponsible.
This offence was compounded by the DA then releasing a press statement under Mphithi’s name, again prejudging the situation, and announcing that they would be visiting the school. The address and even geographical co-ordinates were helpfully provided to everyone who got the release. The DA was also under no obligation, having done that, to then endorse Elana Barkhuizen's summary and, it seems, completely unfair and unlawful suspension, or name her as the culprit in a media release.
Yet Malatsi writes: ‘The best interests of the children are of paramount importance, as per our Constitution, and that is why the DA went to seek answers about this matter without any preconceived notions.’
Neither the DA nor Mphithi knew what the children’s best interests were. If they had, they would have picked up the telephone (invented 1876) and contacted the school first (or one of their public representatives from the area) rather than help expose those six-year-olds to politicians, protesters and the media mob.
The DA’s mealy-mouthed defence is irresponsible. The party also demonstrates political naivety in antagonizing an important constituency just before an election by presuming racism before the facts are in – something which makes the DA indistinguishable from its opposition.
If the DA doesn’t start distinguishing itself, not just in policy but in the manifestation of its liberal philosophy, its relevance in South Africa’s political scene will become debatable.
It would have been appropriate to attribute inexperience and youthful indiscretion to Mphithi. Then the DA should have said that nothing that is apparently racist must ever be called out in the public domain until all the facts have been established. Distributing photos of children in the manner they both did is also a violation of the constitutional rights to privacy and safety of those children.
Malatsi should have acknowledged that the ramifications for the people and institutions involved could be very damaging. The DA should then just have apologised for what happened.
Either the DA doesn’t really support its liberal ideal that justice cannot be served by relying on assumptions rather than evidence, or it is so insecure that it has to adopt the ANC/EFF style of witch-hunting.
Experience has shown that the majority of allegations of racism at schools have, on proper investigation, been shown not to be racism at all. Schools and individuals have had their reputations tarnished and sometimes been destroyed on the altar of party politics in an act of racism on the part of the accusers themselves, or as a result of the questionable intentions of social justice warriors.
For anyone who cares about these rare islands of good schooling and multi-racialism, this needs to stop.
Sara Gon is a Policy Fellow at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), a think tank that promotes political and economic freedom. Readers are invited to take a stand with the IRR by sending an SMS to 32823 (SMSes cost R1, Ts and Cs apply).