Let’s build the nation together, Mr Malema
We’ve heard it all before because the race card is part of his stock in trade. Take it away and he’s as naked as the proverbial emperor with no clothes.
Admittedly, his strategy of racial targeting did take a bit of a back seat for a while. This was when former president Jacob Zuma became his bête noire and the object of all his aversions.
Who can forget Malema’s “Pay back the money” demands over the Nkandla scandal and his party’s disruptive antics in the House to embarrass the Zuma presidency?
The theatrics did work initially - perhaps as a distraction from the humdrum of parliamentary debates - but the novelty soon wore thin when repeated with almost monotonous regularity.
He had become so tediously predictable.
Then, when Zuma was eventually ousted, Malema was reduced to a rebel without a cause. He’d lost the trump card that helped keep him and his party in business for many years.
Now, with an election looming next year, it seems the EFF’s commander-in-chief is at a loose end again and searching for a new cause to reboot his electoral fortunes.
So, digging into his old bag of tricks, he’s come up with an old chestnut: the race card.
Hence his crude and viciously racist attack on the Indian and coloured communities at a recent rally in Klerksdorp when he told his audience of mainly black youth: “We were not all oppressed the same. Indians had all sorts of resources Africans didn’t have. Coloureds as well. The majority of Indians are racist. I’m not saying all. I’m saying majority.”
When a politician stands up in public and resorts to the language of hate to stoke up racial tensions, he must know he’s playing a dangerous game.
Not only does it instil fear and uncertainty and polarise people, it also ratchets up the potential for conflict and violence - just as it did when Adolf Hitler used it with deadly consequences against minority Jews in Nazi Germany; when former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin expelled thousands of Indian people from his country; and in Myanmar where security forces have been hounding minority Rohingya Muslims from their homes.
This may come as something of a surprise to Malema, but I believe some issues he raises are quite valid.
For instance, no one can deny that while all people of colour were oppressed, African people bore the brunt of the hurt, misery and atrocities under apartheid.
But what Malema failed to tell his audience in Klerksdorp is that this was not because Indian and coloured people had asked for any special favours for themselves. It was not as if they had asked for a less punishing form of oppression (apartheid lite, if you wish) based on their race.
The tiered implementation of apartheid policy was deliberate and designed by the oppressors to divide and rule. And this they did with such great effect that even politicians like Malema now want to emulate them, it seems.
I also happen to share his view that there are many racists in the two communities he chose to single out.
I see this every day in my interactions with people - the exploitation of workers, the insulting stereotypes about “those people” or “that nation”; the wicked names used to refer to people of other races in private conversations; the racist jokes that do the rounds on social media.
That does happen all too commonly and deserves to be exposed. But what Malema conveniently avoided telling his audience in Klerksdorp is that racists are not restricted to any particular community.
Racism is the one phenomenon that can be said to be non-racial in its reach. It is prevalent everywhere - among Indians, coloureds, whites and Africans.
And don’t believe that nonsense about African people being incapable of being racist just because of the oppression and human degradation they endured under apartheid.
After decades of strictly enforced racial separation - from cradle to the grave - it was virtually impossible for any South African to emerge from that era without being stained in some way by racial prejudice and conditioning.
One thing is clear in my mind. If I’m looking for an authentic assessment of the state of race relations in my country, I wouldn’t waste my time consulting politicians who harbour deep-rooted race prejudices.
South Africans will be far safer placing their trust in respected organisations like the South African Institute of Race Relations whose most recent studies indicate consistently that most South Africans are moderate in their attitude and believe that co-operation among all citizens is the key to a better future.
When people were asked to respond to the statement, “Different races need each other for progress and there should be full opportunities for all”, a resounding 92% agreed.
That included 96% of Indian respondents and 100% of coloured people.
What the EFF leader needs to understand is that, whether he likes it or not, Indian and coloured people are an integral part of the South African nation. He can bellow his racist diatribe from now till kingdom come, and it will make do difference. We are as South African as the blue crane, the king protea and the springbok.
He controls a party that commands significant support in a constituency of largely poor and less sophisticated citizens yearning for a better quality of life, and an escape from the squalor and poverty they find themselves in.
The choice for him is whether he plans to trade on his reputation of being a brash loud-mouthed populist bully who goes around threatening people of other races to stir up racial hostilities.
Or is he going to take up the cudgels on behalf of the people he claims to represent - by building a new nation together, helping to eradicate poverty, providing decent homes, building the economy so that more people have jobs, ensuring good quality education and enhancing relations among communities.
If he chooses the latter, he’ll be pleasantly surprised at the number of people of goodwill who are willing to work together towards these ideals.
Take the high road and build a nation together. It’s our only salvation.
* Dennis Pather is a former editor. He writes in his personal capacity.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.