When we thought this country was already bursting at the seams recently with race and racism discourses and often accompanying invectives, we probably did not anticipate yet another combustible manifestation of South Africa’s most notorious malady.
Certainly not in the hallowed chambers of Parliament. But that is exactly where it burst forth once more.
The racial attack launched earlier this week by the deputy president of the EFF, Floyd Shivambu, on Ismail Momoniat, the deputy director-general of the National Treasury, smacks of many arguably racist statements that have been made by the leadership of the EFF over several years.
In fact, with a searing sense of impunity, arrogance and often with not a small dose of ignorance, I believe. But what is most interesting, intriguing and revealing is that there is a distinct pattern to these utterances by the leaders of the EFF. And it often coincides with their material/financial interests in certain matters.
The first time racialist statements were made was when its leader, Julius Malema, was under investigation by the SA Revenue Services (Sars) a few years ago.
He attacked what he then called an “Indian cabal” at Sars, which he alleged had an agenda against him. Pravin Gordhan was then the commissioner at Sars.
This background was pointed out in a media report this week, after the attack by Shivambu on Momoniat.
This pattern reflects a clear and very dangerous racialist opportunism that has emerged in the EFF.
By this I mean that they are very quick to exploit the presence of any so-called minorities - Indians, coloureds and whites - within particular institutional settings, especially when their interests in certain matters are at stake. Besides the earlier Sars matter, we have seen this trend again when Shivambu lashed out at Momoniat this week.
The difference, however, is that Shivambu’s attack was perhaps even more nakedly racialist and opportunist than was Malema’s attack on Gordan in the Sars matter.
But that the political setting for this attack was Parliament, makes it both more serious and ominous.
It was nothing less than cheap racialist posturing for Shivambu to protest the presence of Momoniat at a meeting of the standing committee on finance in the absence of “African” officials in the Treasury, such as its director-general Dondo Mogajane, Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene or his deputy, Mondli Gungubele.
How on Earth can the absence of these other officials be construed to have “undermined Africans”?
The racialist posturing can simply be derived from the fact that Momoniat is “Indian”, according to the current racial and arguably racist classification system of the apartheid period, which the governing ANC perpetuated after 1994.
Had Shivambu not, after his outburst in Parliament, also very opportunistically tweeted a 1990 report of a commission of inquiry into allegations of the role of Indian and whites in the lack of unity in the then Mass Democratic Movement the damage he has done would have been much less, but he was determined to “prove” that Momoniat, like the Indians and whites earlier, are manipulative, not to be trusted and operating with underhand agendas.
Even an elementary understanding of the meaning and practice of non-racialism and anti-racism will eschew such unnecessarily racialised and in fact provocative discourses, especially by political leaders.
But perhaps even more glaringly mistaken was Shivambu to strongly suggest that all these senior Treasury officials are controlled by Momoniat, including Nene.
If there is any doubt about the veracity of this implication, Shivambu himself removed it completely by stating that Momoniat “undermines and disregards leadership in the Treasury” and has “assigned to himself virtually all powers of the Treasury, micromanages its entities and also tries to micromanage parliamentary legislative processes”.
Besides, in his brazenly racialist attack by implication, he appears even unaware that he also insulted the seniority and integrity of Nene and those senior officials by that statement.
What served to reinforce how seriously undermining of Nene’s authority this statement by Shivambu ultimately was, is Mogajane’s response to the attack on Momoniat: “Ismail Momoniat is acting on my direct instruction. I take full responsibility for his contributions. He understands the authority of my office. I refute that he undermines the authority of my office.”
What more evidence would one need to show not only how mistaken and unwarranted was Shivambu’s attack, but that he opportunistically used race, probably the most controversial and combustible topic in South Africa over the past few years, as a tool to effectively obstruct legitimate proceedings of the relevant committee and the undisputable right of Momoniat to be present.
Shivambu also incredibly accused Momoniat of being corrupt.
I get a profound sense that contrary to its official affinity with and pretensions to “Marxism-Leninism” and the leftist rhetoric it so often rants about in order to secure a mass base, especially among the African youth - the EFF is deep down a narrow African nationalist and in fact increasingly racialist organisation, a reality it has many times reflected in public statements by its leaders.
Julius Malema’s repeated attacks on Helen Zille’s “whiteness”, which he has never really unpacked, is itself reflective of a leadership that has not seriously studied the theories on race and racism, of which there is voluminous literature.
In the absence of such a study, we have been treated to countless rhetorical racialist outbursts by the most senior leaders of the EFF, except its chairperson, Dali Mpofu, who appears much more nuanced around questions of race and racism, which is probably why he did not share in the scathing attack on Momoniat.
Instead, he tweeted that he had known him for a long time and that he never once cared about his “Indianness”, “whatever that means”, he added.
This is especially relevant, because it is the Indians that the EFF has often attacked.
Malema attacked the Indians again at the fourth anniversary of the EFF in Durban last year, interestingly immediately after he came from a meeting with King Goodwill Zwelinthini.
No doubt, there is much racism among Indian people, but so is there among all other racial groups in South Africa, including Africans.
To single out Indians is both disingenuous and dangerous. And when Malema and other EFF leaders attack Indians for oppressing and exploiting African labour, how better if at all, have African bosses and the middle class treated that same African labour? Do they pay much better wages and provide much better conditions of work? Research into these matters will leave them very surprised, I am certain.
I believe the EFF is deep down no different, despite its radical rhetoric, from the petit bourgeois African nationalism of the ANC and what we have seen in many other African countries.
I think that they in fact manipulate race and that amorphous “whiteness” Malema likes to take a dig at in the DA especially, not because they genuinely want a socialist South Africa in which the black majority exercises power in the interests of all workers, but in order to use access to state power in the interests of an African elite, as African nationalist leaders have largely done under ANC rule and in the rest of Africa.
I often wonder how much they have seriously studied the Algerian revolutionary Frantz Fanon, on what became of African nationalist leaders once in power, contrary to what they promised the masses they would do.
Talking about their limited scholarly understanding and knowledge about race and racism, is that perhaps why my many attempts to interview several senior leaders of the EFF on these issues, and interrogate them on their public utterances on race and racism over the past year has drawn a blank?
When I met Shivambu earlier this year at the memorial for the late Sampie Terreblanche at Wits University and told him about how disappointed I was that none of the EFF leaders responded to my requests for interviews, he assured me that he would discuss it with them and let me know. He never did.
* Harvey is a political writer and commentator
The Sunday Independent