In recent times, the term “racism laundering” has been used to describe a concerning phenomenon where conservative black individuals are seemingly co-opted by white establishments to espouse racist narratives without fear of being called out.
This divisive tactic can perpetuate stereotypes and hinder progress in the fight against racism. However, it is essential to exercise caution and fairness when applying such terminology, especially in the context of international relations and political discourse.
Media personality Redi Tlhabi recently engaged in an exchange of views on South Africa’s political landscape during an event in the US. While Tlhabi has every right to express her opinions as a citizen, it becomes problematic when she assumes the role of speaking on behalf of the entire country.
Regardless of her personal sentiments toward the ANC, it is crucial to acknowledge that the ANC is the democratically elected governing party in South Africa, chosen by the people based on its election manifesto.
Nelson Mandela, an icon of South Africa’s Struggle for freedom and democracy, emphasised the importance of not allowing foreign nations to dictate the country’s friendships or impose paternalistic conditions on diplomatic relations.
This principle is especially relevant in the context of trade agreements like the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), which should not compromise South Africa’s sovereignty and right to self-determination.
Tlhabi’s criticism of Minister of International Relations, Naledi Pandor, needs to be viewed in a broader context. It is essential to distinguish between legitimate criticism and potentially harmful rhetoric that could undermine the country’s diplomatic efforts.
South Africa’s trade relationships have evolved, and China has become a significant trading partner. If Tlhabi’s concerns are rooted in trade, she should not overlook the successes of the China-South Africa partnership.
Moreover, diplomatic relations should always be based on each country’s interests rather than nostalgia or sentiment. South Africa’s participation in the BRICS partnership, which includes Brazil, Russia, India and China, is in the best interest of the nation. It provides a platform for co-operation and mutual benefit on various global issues.
Drawing parallels between Tlhabi’s criticisms and “racism laundering”, as suggested by US writer Dara Tucker, may oversimplify a complex situation. It is important to recognise that individuals can have diverse opinions and motivations, and ascribing harmful labels without sufficient evidence can be counter-productive to constructive dialogue.
While criticism and debate are vital components of a healthy democracy, it is essential to approach such discussions with nuance and respect for democratic institutions.
South Africa’s sovereignty and right to self-determination should be upheld and trade agreements should be evaluated based on their impact on the nation’s interests.
Rather than embracing divisive rhetoric, patriotic South Africans should promote diplomacy and co-operation that benefit the nation as a whole.
Councillor Nkosenhle Madlala is the chairperson of the Governance and Human Resources Committee in eThekwini Municipality. (The International Relations function falls under this portfolio). He writes in his personal capacity.