Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi says he has taken Afrikaans lessons to demonstrate he is not against the language, per se. File picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA)
IT’S VERY rare that a senior minister in the national Cabinet would get involved in the appointment of MECs at provincial level.

It’s just politically indiscreet to do so.

But when Education Minister Angie Motshekga heard that the ebullient Panyaza Lesufi was being moved from education to finance in Gauteng, she felt obliged to step in and called the decision “a big, big mistake”.

As things turned out, Motshekga’s plea was heeded.

A few days later, Lesufi was moved back to education where he has been a trailblazer in the racial transformation of education and a champion in the campaign against school crime and vandalism.

Never afraid to speak his mind, Lesufi is no stranger to controversy.

He stepped onto his latest hot potato this week when trade union Solidarity announced its plans to build an Afrikaans-only university in Tshwane.

Lesufi was livid, and in typically combative style, pushed Solidarity leaders for answers: “Is there room for a language-based university? Should a language be used to perpetuate racist agendas?”

While Solidarity tried to argue its motives were honourable, and the construction of the private vocational training college did not intend to discriminate according to race, Lesufi was having none of that.

“The answer is: no ways. I and many South Africans are not opposed to Afrikaans, Afrikaner culture and its trappings. But we’ll never support those who want to hijack this language, just like during apartheid, to conceal their hatred of a democratic SA.”

To prove his bona fides, he says he has taken Afrikaans lessons to demonstrate he is not against the language, per se.

“My daughter also went to an Afrikaans school. So the shallow calls that I hate Afrikaans are baseless.”

But it was when DA leader Mmusi Maimane decided to enter the fray that Lesufi really lost his cool.

When Maimane accused Lesufi of showing “open hatred to Afrikaans” and called for all South African languages to be allowed to thrive, Lesufi bared his teeth and snarled back: “Please don’t use my name to please racists. If you are scared of racists, that’s not my problem,”

How ironical that all this noisy and racially-charged argy-bargy was taking place in the very week that South Africans were celebrating Heritage Day and talking about the need for greater tolerance towards each other.

Leading the celebrations was President Cyril Ramaphosa who, in a speech in the Northern Cape on Tuesday, encouraged South Africans to embrace their heritage.

There is no language that is superior to another, and people need to rekindle the country’s cultural values of unity, dignity, respect and equality that have united us despite our diversity, he urged.

Well spoken, Mr President. It’s all about “unity in diversity”.

Too many of our leaders appear to pontificate about “unity in diversity” on public platforms, but pay lip service to its real meaning in practice.

It needs to be a lived experience.

* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.