South African politics reached a near-miraculous high point under Nelson Mandela, with a much-wronged political leader putting self-sacrifice into practice to lead the whole nation out of its Apartheid mire. His party, the ANC, has been trading on that capital for 20 years, and rightly so. However, that goodwill has been exploited so ruthlessly in recent years, with one corruption scandal after the next, and catastrophic failures of entire provinces, that many of its supporters have become disillusioned and have stopped voting, or have given their vote to the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA). The ANC seems to be genuinely concerned by the ground they’ve lost, because more than ever, the political tactic is to brand their opponents as racist, even with all the evidence to the contrary.
The best recent example involves the DA leader Helen Zille’s remark on Twitter that people flocking from the ANC-run Eastern Cape province to the DA-run Western Cape in order to find proper schooling are ‘education refugees’. The migration has been happenning because of scandalous corruption and mismanagement of schooling in the ECape, which has brought it to the brink of collapse. The department managed to spend only 28% of its budget in the face of incredible need, compared with the WCape, which spent all of theirs. Instead of public discussion raging about this awful deprivation of the right to education in the ECape, certain sectors began decrying Zille’s fairly innocuous metaphor (‘education refugees’) as racist. Our country has now spent a whole month pretending to be shocked about that statement, while the near-fatal pillaging of the ECape by its leaders is hardly an issue.
In the Papers Today
In this morning’s Star, the front page reports on Patric Mellet (a senior Home Affairs official) who spewed a deeply offensive rant on Facebook about Zille’s supposed racism.
The Star quotes him as saying:
The Devolved Apartheid Party (DA) are now really going back to their roots… Zille everyday more and more sounds like PW Botha… the skew mouth, the wagging finger, the voice with the wry smile and pregnant pause, and the Apartheid talk about alien refugees flooding into the White-Coloured Labour Preference Area… wow… this closely follows her Butcher of Hangberg orders to deal ruthlessly with opposition resulting in ‘the shoot the eyes out of protesters’ action by kitskonstabels.
Mein Fuhrer Helen Zille motormouth does not cease to amaze with her cloned NP style.
The DA really have become the Devolved Apartheid Party. How she justifies her racist rants just deepens the foot in mouth disease. PW Botha has risen from the dead. She really does him proud.
Now let’s see on what the comparisons to Hitler and Apartheid villain PW Botha are based:
- finger wagging
- pausing and smiling while speaking in public
- ‘Apartheid talk about alien refugees flooding into’ the Cape
The first two points are shameful in their own way. The argument is, ‘Hitler used standard public-speaking techniques; Botha used standard public-speaking techniques; Zille uses standard public-speaking techniques. Therefore Zille is a hateful, racist Apartheid psycho.’
Zuma and Malema use the same rhetorical techniques when they speak, so are they also returning to Apartheid politics? Of course not. It is a ridiculous, cheap ploy to transfer similarity in one area (physical appearance) to other areas (political ideology) without any relevant evidence.
So what about the evidence?
The last point has the appearance of evidence, but again, it is misleading. Mellet clearly believes that Zille’s statement was motivated by xenophobic hatred for refugees, because he’s spewing this on Facebook, not in some political point-scoring forum. But he’s believing his own party’s spin on words that she herself never said (‘alien refugees flooding’). In fact, Zille herself explained a week ago on the party’s newsroom page what her not-very-unclear refugee metaphor means:
That brings me to the matter of the “education refugees”, which is how I described the thousands of learners who arrive during the course of the first term in Western Cape schools, because their right to education has been betrayed in their home province, the Eastern Cape. These learners accounted for 44% of all new registrations, from Grade 1 to Grade 12, in Western Cape schools this year. This student migration is the major reason we are undertaking an emergency school building programme to complete 45 new schools within our term of office (while the Eastern Cape spent a paltry 28% of its infrastructure budget last year). The difference is clear: We treat all children as full, legitimate South African citizens and we respect their right to education. The ANC does not.
This is the real scandal. But it was buried by the eruption of pseudo outrage about the word “refugees” – which was conveniently uncoupled from its qualifying noun “education”. Very soon it became “self-evident” that I had referred to all black people in the Western Cape as “refugees”. And, of course, this was irrefutable “proof” of my “racism”.
In other words, the idea that the DA is opposed to the presence of ECape people was drummed up by those trying to make her look bad. She herself was describing the ECape like a warzone from which people must flee (hence ‘refugee’), and pointing out that they are in the process of building new schools so that they can serve these people. Her concern is for the worrying state of the ECape and the shortage of schools in the WCape as a result. There is no mention of the undesirability of the people in the slightest. Generally, if you want to prevent refugees from staying in your land, you don’t accommodate them. And generally, if you’re trying to be a racist and keep a certain group beaten down, you don’t educate them. I don’t know why the ANC doesn’t care about educating people in the ECape, but Zille and her ilk are the ones trying to improve their lot. What a freaking racist she is (that’s sarcasm, if you’re bad at metaphor and irony).
So Mellet, a person acquainted (I hope) with metaphor, context, and the DA Newsroom website, should have had no trouble differentiating between what Zille said and meant, and what spin doctors have said about it. The fact that he even complains about her attempts at explaining, when he clearly needs the explanation, is even more horrifying.
One of the online comments to the Star article thought that this was just a case of name-calling of the sort that takes place all the time in politics. He said:
it funny dat helen zille can call President Zuma names but when it happens to her people must be fired.
Name-calling is always regrettable, and Zille is obviously not always impeccable, but there’s a difference between name-calling and attempting to sow racial hatred by likening someone to an Apartheid monster. The latter is slander, and it might even qualify as racial incitement and hate speech (a British student was imprisoned for racist joking on Twitter recently on these grounds).
One way or another, it is yet another instance in a long line of ANC accusations of racism in the DA, when the evidence is uniformly to the contrary. If you say something enough times, people will start to believe it, and it seems to be the weapon that the ANC is employing to attempt to discredit their opposition, who have an annoying habit of not running provinces into the ground. But if the ANC is having to drum up racism that isn’t there, then who is the one guilty of Apartheid divisiveness?
This tactic seems to me to be an attempt to bring back the divisions of 20 years ago so that it can once again be ‘the ANC against the racist oppressor’; it is an attempt to restock Nelson Mandela’s political capital without having Mandela’s integrity. And sadly, if some of the comments on the Star article are any indication, it is working.