Parliament – Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa on Tuesday proposed another national convention on nation building to tackle racism during a highly charged parliamentary debate which saw MPs hurl brickbats at each other, and the slur “racist” flying frequently across the National Assembly floor.
“We should dialogue – that should be uppermost in our approach. This thing of people preaching war – war, war, war is not going to help but jaw, jaw, jaw will if we are to build this society,” Mthethwa said during the debate to discuss racism, particularly on the country’s universities.
“We should convene different social partners to craft different social compacts on values which we agree as South Africans that these are the values we share.”
“Some things happening in society, including in this House, can never be values that any somebody who respects himself will identify himself or herself with,” he said, hinting at the recent instances of chaos in the assembly brought on by name-calling which has seen many an MP ejected from sitting for “unparliamentary” conduct.
Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Mulder opened the debate by condemning racism, but labelling protests over language policies at universities which had spilled into violence at various campuses this year as “largely artificial”.
“It is not supported by thousands of students as was the Fees Must Fall movement,” Mulder said.
He said it was whipped up by the “likes of the EFF to create a revolutionary climate” in the country. Mulder said this was evidenced by the fact that there was not a single rallying call shared by protestors on all campuses. Instead, an issue had been picked at every university currently in turmoil. Hence, at the University of Cape Town, protestors were agitating over residences and at Stellenbosch University over the use of Afrikaans.
He said it was a recipe for ongoing racial turmoil in South Africa for years to come.
The Democratic Alliance’s Belinda Bozzoli agreed, and had harsh words for both the protestors whom she dismissed as “narcissistic brutes” who failed to see that their actions were limiting access to higher education rather than broadening it, and for the state’s response.
“The pseudo revolutionary Blade Nzimande found himself on the wrong side of the barricades while our anti-intellectual president suddenly had to take not of what he likes to call ‘clever blacks’.”
She said Zuma had not resolved the issue by responding with a moratorium on university fee increases announced last year as students took their protest to the Union Buildings.
“It will only become uglier with time,” Bozzoli added.
ANC MP Jabulani Mahlangu, however, took aim at the FF Plus.
“The reactionary formations, including the FF Plus and and it’s righ wing partners Afriforum are fuellig the foul air of tension, mutual antagonism and hatred,” he said.
“If people are dispossessed they will raise their issues and those who have benefitteed will always defend what they have.”
The party political attacks continued as as the EFF’s Thembinkosi Rawula was forced to withdraw a remark, also aimed at the FF Plus.
“Rabid racists like Mr Mulder and the defenders of racism…are caught literally with their pants down,” he said.
Rawula linked the mine worker strike at Marikana in 2012, which ended with 34 miners killed by the police, with the unrest on campuses, and said together these events marked a turning point for the poor and oppressed.
“The sudden consciousness of workers indicate the unravelling of the false foundations on which the country was established,” he said.
MPs from smaller parties struck a measured note, and admonished their colleagues for “finger-pointing”.
UDM MP Nqabayomzi Kwankwa said protests had served to shake South Africans out of “their deep rainbow nation slumber” and show that there was a need for genuine tolerance, 22 years after the fall of apartheid.
IFP MP Mkhuleko Hlengwa said the “inflammatory rhetoric” of the country’s leaders was fuelling racism, and this would not defeat the scourge.
At one stage he used an analogy favoured by party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, likening South African society to a “bowl of salad”.
“We’re in this together. If the tomato is rotten and the lettuce is fresh then the salad is rotten,” he said
“Universities are not sensitive to the challenges of the poor who are previously disadvantaged. If the system is fixed all else will followed because mindsets will follow.”
African Christian Democratic Party MP Kenneth Meshoe appealed to South Africans to speak out against those using the “k-word or f-word”, and suggested the answer lay in teaching people to play the piano.
“The piano is an instrument which has both white and black keys which are mutually dependent and to fully enjoy the truth and potential of its soothing and sweet melodies one must use all the keys black and white,” he said.
“A new sound should emerge from South Africa – a sound that resonates with harmony and brings unity and peace. Indeed united we stand but together we fall.”
African News Agency
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