Minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s comments in Parliament this week are nothing new in South African politics, says Mmusi Maimane.
Cape Town - As I reflected on Minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s comments in Parliament this past week, I was reminded by one of my DA colleagues that her remarks were nothing new in South African politics.
The minister’s comments, it appears, convey an attitude within the ANC that black South Africans are free to choose – as long as it’s the ANC.
Sisulu commented that I was nothing more than a “hired native” or “black commodity” who was in Parliament to do “someone else’s bidding”.
These attacks are in line with the ANC’s narrative of racial mobilisation and an abandonment of former president Nelson Mandela’s project of non-racialism.
Similar comments were made by other ANC speakers, directed at either me or my other black colleagues within the DA caucus.
Despite withdrawing her “hired native” comment, the minister’s words are telling of a broader attitude within the ANC.
However, similar comments were expressed towards the late Frederik van Zyl Slabbert.
Van Zyl Slabbert grew up in a conservative, traditional Afrikaner household during the height of apartheid.
He was the head boy of his high school, played first-team rugby and was the head of his university residence in Stellenbosch.
He first studied to be a minister in the NG Kerk (Dutch Reformed Church) before taking up sociology instead.
He was a model for everything that the National Party (NP) stood for; their dream for Afrikaner nationalism.
He “owed” everything – his background, his education, his choice of political party – to the NP. He ticked all the boxes.
Except for one. He opposed the policy of apartheid and he opposed the National Party.
At the time, Van Zyl Slabbert chose to lead the official opposition – the Progressive Federal Party (the predecessor to the DA).
He had a different vision for South Africa than what the NP represented and, by choosing to disagree with the party, he broke out of the traditional Afrikaner mould. The NP banished him as a veraaier (traitor) and an outcast. (These were some of the tamer insults that were levied against him.)
In their view, he had abandoned the Afrikaner cause.
To borrow a phrase from Sisulu, the NP thought: “I don’t know how you can come from a place like that and end up like this.”
The words may have changed, but the sentiment is the same. It’s a case of history repeating itself.
Here I am: a young, black South African who grew up in Dobsonville, Soweto, surrounded by the struggle.
I remember the white SADF members who came to Soweto during the 1980s.
I am the beneficiary of an education that was made possible both because of the struggle for liberation and because of the sacrifices my parents made.
In many ways, my life is also a model of everything that the ANC fought for – except one: I am the parliamentary leader of the Democratic Alliance.
The comments by Sisulu espouse the same attitude as the former NP.
It is an attitude that as a free black South African, I owe everything – my background, my education, my freedom – to the ANC.
Therefore, my politics must also be aligned to the ANC.
This is not freedom.
True freedom means that I am free to choose either the ANC or the DA.
I am free to look at the vision for South Africa that all political parties put forward to the South African people and then make a choice.
It is the freedom to associate with the party that I choose.
And, in a constitutional democracy that values non-racialism and non-sexism, it is the freedom to do so without criticism of my race or culture.
My political choices are not a betrayal of the freedoms which the ANC fought for, but rather the exercising of those freedoms.
I choose to support the DA because I believe that it is the only political party that continues to live by and champion our country’s motto of “Unity in Diversity”.
I am aware of my past.
I am grateful for the sacrifices made by the generations of struggle leaders who fought for my freedom.
But I will not allow that gratitude to enslave me now.
I am not the first person in the DA to receive such comments from the ANC and I will not be the last.
But I will strive for real freedom for all South Africans.
And if achieving real freedom for all South Africans means that I have to endure a few cheap shots at the hands of the ANC, then let that be my burden to bear.