For some time the EFF has been propagating a political philosophy of what can fairly accurately be defined as racial nationalism. This is the very antithesis of non-racialism as set out in section 1 of the constitution, which declares that the South African state is based on, inter alia, the values of “non-racialism and non-sexism”. Non-racialism is also propounded in the legendary Freedom Charter.
The EFF’s campaign will undoubtedly reflect that of its credo of racial nationalism. This is manifestly made clear from the conduct of its chief whip and MP Floyd Shivambu, from his statements and conduct in the Standing Committee on Finance of Parliament, as reported in the media.
In his participation in a debate in the committee, he accused senior, respected Treasury official Ismail Momoniat of being “non-African”. The committee correctly described Shivambu’s comments as a “crude attack” and defended Momoniat by stating in unequivocal terms that he is an “extremely hardworking, honest (and) skilled” official.
Shivambu accused Momoniat of having a superior complex which would not allow him to take orders from his African seniors. Shivambu subsequently repeated similar derogatory statements on social media, alleging that Momoniat “undermines and disregards black, particularly African leadership”.
This is an unequivocal manifestation of racial nationalism, which it is submitted, does inordinate damage to sound race relations in South Africa, which President Cyril Ramaphosa recently poignantly pleaded for and committed the ANC to at a meeting of the SA National Editors Forum.
Although the language used by Shivambu is protected by parliamentary privilege, it is submitted his comments in the media are prima facie defamatory of Momoniat, which a subsequent statement by the committee described as unwarranted and inconsistent with the “non-racial principles necessary for a transformative agenda that addresses race, class and gender in South Africa”.
This kind of racial nationalism, which is often accompanied by hate speech, poses a singular danger to social cohesion, nation-building and sound race relations in South Africa today. Mere condemnation and censure is not enough: it is time for action to be taken and for Shivambu’s conduct to be challenged in the courts.
This is the second incident of a racial nature involving this turbulent politician. On March 3 he was caught on video assaulting a white photographer and journalist, Adrian de Kock, outside the houses of Parliament. Although he subsequently apologised and admitted his behaviour was unacceptable, he appears to have no intention of changing his aggressive and indeed fascist conduct.
The editors forum and National Press Club both criticised Shivambu’s conduct, saying it was unacceptable for an MP to intimidate a journalist. De Kock said he would lay a criminal complaint.
Shivambu appears to have become a law unto himself and an embarrassment even to his own party, since he has been upbraided for his conduct by his leader Julius Malema. For this reason he needs to be taught a lesson and action taken against him in Parliament and the courts.
The committee indicated in no uncertain terms that there is no shred of evidence that Momoniat is corrupt, as Shivambu claimed. On the contrary, the committee affirmed him to be “an extremely hardworking, honest, skilled and experienced official who served both the anti-apartheid Struggle and the new democracy selflessly”. These were the words and sentiments of the committee chair, Yunus Carrim.
Ahmed Kathrada Foundation executive director Neeshan Balton also denounced Shivambu’s reckless statement as “profoundly racist, politically reckless and highly inflammatory”, and declared that “Momoniat’s contribution to the anti-apartheid Struggle is exemplary and sincere”.
Although the committee urged MPs not to exacerbate the growing racial polarisation, the EFF subsequently issued a statement in support of Shivambu, in which it castigated Momoniat for his role, according to it, in acting as the “de facto minister of finance”, thereby “dictating everything the National Treasury does”.
The EFF and leader Malema have virtually from the inception of this party been fuelling racial nationalism with their hate speech, such as his notorious and inflammatory statement that he “invoked his own authority to call his devotees not to slaughter the white yet”. This, together with the EFF’s encouragement to its members and others to perpetrate illegal land grabs, are prime examples of conduct facilitating an atmosphere conducive to racial nationalism.
Unfortunately, as a country, we are an inordinately economically unequal society. It is this inequality that needs to be addressed with the urgency it deserves. Failure to address inequality holistically renders our constitutional and political system unstable and indeed has the potential to destroy our system of democratic government in a violent and revolutionary manner.
The political creed of racial nationalism can so easily be used by the EFF and their ilk to foment violent dissent, protest and even insurrection. The unequal distribution of land and the history of its dispossession from the indigenous people of our country is in an important issue in this regard, but most certainly not the only one. Inequality as a whole must be addressed with urgency.
Most unfortunately, the nearly 10 years of the Zuma presidency and administration has because of its essentially corrupt and incompetent nature exacerbated economic inequality and facilitated the rise of racial nationalism.
Racial nationalism as a creed is committed to total African domination in every sphere and aspect of government and society, and rejects non-racialism and national reconciliation. It is manifestly reflected in the conduct of the Black First Land First party and certain elements within the defeated Zuma faction of the ANC. It would involve cadre deployment of an extreme nature.
It is submitted that the only realistic and feasible solution to the serious problem of gross economic inequality for the Ramaphosa administration is that as explained by Ray Hartley in his insightful biography of our new president entitled Ramaphosa: The Man Who Would Be King, in which he states Ramaphosa must find a way to bring meaningful growth back to the South African economy not by words, but by deeds.
A powerful growth driven economy is the only realistic option for the multiple problems we face in relation to economic inequality, and the poverty and social injustice that still blights South Africa.
It is also essential to retain and further develop our constitutional democracy and the freedom and human dignity it has brought to us as a nation, which racial nationalism has the potential to seriously damage or even destroy completely.
* George Devenish is an emeritus professor at UKZN and one of the scholars who assisted in drafting the Interim Constitution in 1993.