Too much Trumpism in our politics

Douglas Gibson says our leaders should stop trying to foster racial discord and division

Do politicians unite us or divide us?

It was one of the most inspiring speeches I have heard in a long time. I am not referring to Melania Trump’s speech cribbed word for word from Michelle Obama. I refer to the speech made by Theresa May, the new British Prime Minister.

Mrs May talked about ‘one nation’ politics: “…we believe in a union not just between the nations of the United Kingdom but between all of our citizens – every one of us – whoever we are and wherever we’re from.”

Promising to fight ‘burning injustice,’ she said, “That means fighting against the burning injustice that if you’re born poor you will die on average nine years earlier than others. If you’re black you are treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you’re white. If you’re a white working class boy you’re less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university.

 “If you’re at a state school you’re less likely to reach the top professions than if you’re educated privately. If you’re a woman you will earn less than a man.

She added, “But the mission to make Britain a country that works for everyone means more than fighting these injustices.

“If you are one of those families, if you’re just managing, I want to address you directly… The Government I lead will be driven, not by the interests of the privileged few but by yours. We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives.

“When we take the big calls we will think not of the powerful, but you. When we pass new laws we will listen not to the mighty, but to you.”

It is interesting to compare this address from Mrs May with the type of political campaign being waged by United States Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump and by our own politicians in South Africa.

Trump is not inspired by one nation politics. His campaign for nomination sought to divide Americans, not unite them. He denigrates insults and demeans others. He has alienated the large and growing Hispanic population. Ignoring the constitutional protection of the freedom of religion, he wants to bar Muslims from entering America. He has gross things to say about women he doesn’t like and he rejects a civil and respectful discourse with those with whom he disagrees. Ted Cruz, from his own party was ‘Lying Ted,’ Marco Rubio was ‘little Marco,’ and Hillary Clinton is ‘crooked Hillary.’

Trump aspires to be the voice of the forgotten Americans and those left behind, like Theresa May. He could talk in exactly the same terms as she does, but to the evident delight of many, he chooses to appeal to the worst in people, instead of inspiring them with the best American values. Treating one’s opponents like dog excrement might be popular in some circles, but eventually it demeans the whole political discourse, making him unworthy to be president of a great nation and leader of the democratic world.       

What of South Africa?

Mr Julius Malema, leader of the EFF, last week again promoted taking land without compensation. He tells his supporters to occupy land illegally and not apologise, as no white person in the country can claim ownership.

All the land in SA belongs to the black majority and if a black person sees a piece of land they like, they should occupy it, because it belongs to them. This is the racist and divisive poison spouted by this young man, nurtured in the ANC.

Give him half a chance and the EFF will bring this country to ruination. Think Venezuela. Think Zimbabwe. Those are his heroes.

But what of the deputy president and the president of South Africa?

Deputy President Ramaphosa enjoys a vastly better image than the president does but he is also not above using racist statements to win votes. Just like the “swartgevaar” of the bad old days, Ramaphosa in the 2014 election told black voters that if they didn’t vote for the ANC, the “Boere” would be back in power. “Witgevaar“ loud and clear.

President Zuma on the campaign trail said he could not understand blacks voting for other parties. He also said that blacks must unite and support the ANC because the whites, while in a minority, all voted.

Blatant racism from leaders who swore to uphold a constitution that celebrates unity in diversity is seriously disappointing. It seems that in the pursuit of votes and power, anything goes, never mind the damage done to our national unity in the process.

What of the Official Opposition? DA leader, Mmusi Maimane talks continually of uniting people, not dividing them. He stresses that South Africa belongs to all those who live here, united in their diversity.

In a major speech delivered at the London School of Economics recently, Maimane said, “We are engaged in a wonderful, fascinating and incredibly important project at the southern tip of Africa: to prove that it is possible to build a prosperous mature democracy in the context of massive constraints… but we are tackling these constraints head on.”

He said, “We reject the politics of bitter racial division. We reject the idea of achieving change through violent revolution. We are absolutely committed to the project of building a united, prosperous South Africa – under the rule of law, with a capable state and a growing economy. The battle to maintain these principles is never-ending …This is our democracy, and we will fight to protect it both from the kleptocrats and the ideologues.”

Maimane’s call for ‘One Nation, One future,’ sounds remarkably like that of Theresa May and quite different from that of some other politicians.

Douglas Gibson is a former Opposition Chief Whip and a former ambassador to Thailand.

This article first appeared in The Star.