Johannesburg - It is a form of self-disempowerment for black South Africans to mobilise each other on the basis of race as if they were an oppressed minority.
In fact, racial mobilisation is always the tool of the oppressor, says DA Gauteng premier candidate Mmusi Maimane.
Delivering a speech on Race and Identity at the Apartheid Museum in Joburg on Wednesday night, Maimane tried to have his own “I am an African” and “Yes we can” moment in a moving speech interrogating the causes, effects and possible solutions for the persistent racial prejudices that still blight post-apartheid South Africa.
“I’ll be very honest today and say the rise of racial mobilisation should be a huge worry for all of us. We see it from all sides of the spectrum. On the one side, it comes from lingering material deprivation, a sense that the majority of South Africans continue to suffer in the new South Africa,” he said.
Maimane said while South Africans needed to acknowledge the evils of apartheid and do what they can to redress them, they mustn’t allow anger and victimhood to “obscure how far we have come” and how lives had improved in a democratic South Africa.
“Poor people are overwhelmingly black and black people are overwhelmingly poor. This should make us all angry. It makes me angry,” said Maimane. “But what angers me more are those who say racial solidarity will improve the lives of poor South Africans. Because the truth is that mobilising on the basis of race, as if we were an oppressed minority, only serves to disempower us as black South Africans.”
Maimane said South Africans should never allow any government to “manufacture and manipulate our identities” for its own ends and abuse them, just as the apartheid government had done. Reconciliation was not simply about “two nations” coming together to make one, as symbolised on our rainbow flag. Instead, he said, it lay in each individual recognising the unique identity of every other individual, as acknowledged in the signing of the constitution in 1996.
“I am proud to say I am an individual. I am proud to say I am an African. Being an African is part of who I am; it is part of who I choose to be.
“Our politics does not have to be a choice between black and white, rich or poor, Zulu or Xhosa. We can forge a new kind of politics based on a shared identity that takes nothing away from the individual identities we choose for ourselves.”
He said South Africa had the capacity to overcome its “strange and twisted history”.
“I say we can. But not at the expense of forgetting this history is a part of our identity.”