‘Mayor’ Mashaba just another DA election gimmick

By Eusebius Mckaiser Time of article published Jan 17, 2016

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Eusebius McKaiser

Obviously, businessman Herman Mashaba has the right to be a libertarian who can pretend that his exceptional life story is proof that structural racism doesn’t exist. But, equally, we have the right to respond to, and engage this delusion.

And it will not do to defend the content of his views by pretending his right of free political association is being threatened. It is not. He is entitled to belong to any political party and the DA is entitled, as it has chosen, to elect him as their mayoral candidate for Johannesburg. But they made a strategic blunder in the process.

Mashaba has argued that “the notion of empowering previously disadvantaged blacks is a noble ideal, noble but racist”. Why? Because BEE principles require companies to consider “the race and social background of potential applicants instead of considering an applicant’s skill set and qualifications”.

This is a spectacular conclusion for someone who assures us that he experienced racism so profoundly that he was a very angry black youth, one with memory of his widowed mom being so exploited with paltry wages that she had to resort to stealing supplies from her justice-insensitive employer.

Mashaba himself, and his sister, had to steal firewood and water from white farmers. But if you have this kind of experiential basis for understanding the violence of racism, why would you reject race-based affirmative action that is a necessary and fair response to the unjust society we inherited from colonialism and apartheid?

Mashaba perpetuates the lie that merit and affirmative action are, inherently, enemies. Because when he says that taking account of someone’s social background and race leads to an abandonment of assessing skills, he is insinuating that black people in this country who support affirmative action are demanding jobs just on account of being black. What a crass insult. And a lie, to boot.

It gets worse. This past weekend, he has revealed that he is no longer interested in asserting a black identity. I guess he has made enough money now from the Black Like Me brand, and ventures into black empowerment deals. He can, quite literally, now afford colour-blindness and Rainbowism.

He reportedly said at the weekend: “If I have the powers to remove all laws and policies that classify me as a black human being, I’d do it tomorrow.”

This is obviously music to the ears of some senior leaders in the DA, who are critical of identity politics. And who think that focusing on economic growth is the sole response required to deal with racism (not that we are ever told in any convincing deal, by the way, how sustained levels of economic growth would be achieved).

So, in Mashaba, the DA has a black mayoral candidate who thinks, believes and says the kind of ahistorical, colour blind nonsense that many of the white men in the party wish they could say more freely. That’s why they love him.

Mashaba might be a brilliant entrepreneur, but he is a political novice and one with no experience of governance that would enable him to run the City of Joburg well in the unlikely event he was to become mayor.

Those in the DA who punted him, know this. So, why would they bring in an outsider to spearhead the contest for one of the most important metros in this year’s local elections? Because the DA continues to play racial politics, and identity politics more generally, while pretending that only the ANC and EFF do so.

They want, dear voter, those of us who do care for identity politics, to be excited by facts about Mashaba’s identity, while pretending that his candidature as mayor has nothing to do with his skin colour.

His story of breaking the poverty cycle in his family is meant to inspire us to vote DA.

But this is laughable. This, yet again, shows that the DA thinks voters are so daft that merely if someone looks like you, will you vote for them and their party.

How many times will we revisit the examples of the UDM, ID, IFF, Cope, Agang SA and other black-led political outfits that have been hammered at the elections despite leaders who look like the majority demographic in the country?

Race is relevant, but not a sufficient criterion in an ideal mayoral candidate. It is critically important that a chosen candidate show an understanding of how structural injustices work. No candidate who is colour blind can deal effectively with economic injustices in South Africa’s cities, precisely because racism lies at the heart of exclusion.

Herman Mashaba is a great South African, but he will, like Mamphela Ramphele, turn out to be a terrible politician.

Why does the DA refuse to stop with these gimmicky politics? It’s no time for mayoral candidates who are right-wing. Because it’s 2016.

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