South Africa and the Politics of Identity

Published on 19th June 2018

Then there is the Indian foreign minority group. This group came to this country not as imperialists or colonialists but as indentured labourers. In the South African set-up of today, this group is an oppressed minority. But there are some members of this group, the merchant class in particular, who have become tainted with the virus of cultural supremacy and national arrogance. This class identifies itself by and large with the oppressor but, significantly, this is the group which provides the political leadership of the Indian people in South Africa. And all that the politics of this class have meant up to now is preservation and defence of the sectional interests of the Indian merchant class. The down-trodden, poor "stinking coolies" of Natal who, alone, as a result of the pressure of material conditions, can identify themselves with the indigenous African majority in the struggle to overthrow White supremacy, have not yet produced their leadership. We hope they will do so soon,” Professor Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe in his 1959 PAC inaugural address from Selected speeches of Robert Sobukwe and a mini-biography Compiled by Sinethemba Sembene Mandyoli.

A decade and-a-half before Sobukwe’s observations on the Indian community, Anton Lembede, the founding President of the ANCYL wrote about the Indian community and Coloureds.  I once wrote that the ideas of one of the foremost thinkers and Africanist theoreticians, Muziwakhe Anton Lembede, the founding President of the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) in 1944, have been swept under the carpet. This is probably because they made some people, especially in the Communist Party-ANC alliance, uncomfortable.  These ideas need not be concealed and hidden away from today's youth. They must be exposed to them and make their own judgment.

It cannot be discounted that these South African youth may be using rhetoric to garner votes. However, they are not the first to express those views. It does not help to conceal the ideas of visionary leaders such as Lembede and Sobukwe as the ANC government is doing. It is pointless to accuse these young men and women of racism and threaten them with prosecution because as I have pointed out, legislating against attitudes will not help. The bill against racism and hate speech that is about to be passed into law is going to victimise the victims of racism.

According to David James Smith’s book Young Mandela, during his 1962 tour of the African continent and Britain to drum up support for the ANC but failed, Nelson Mandela had a fallout with Dr Yusuf Dadoo in London because of politics of identity. Mandela is quoted as having told Dr Dadoo that the Africanist ideology of the PAC and Sobukwe endeared the PAC and Sobukwe to African leaders and appealed to Africans and that the ANC will have to adopt a similar nationalist policy as the PAC. Dr Dadoo was so upset with Mandela that there was a fallout.

In March this year, I wrote an article in the Sunday Independent in which I raised concern about the condescending attitude to Africans by some South African Indians and Asians in general, nevertheless the ANC is impervious to advice.

The EFF-Treasury imbroglio with Yunus Carrim regarding Ismail Momoniat demonstrates that some people and organisations do not want to learn from history. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The opening quote, as I have acknowledged, is an excerpt from PAC founding President Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe’s 1959 inaugural address delivered almost six decades ago. The ANC is impervious to advice.

It cannot be discounted that these South African youth may be using rhetoric to garner votes. However, they are not the first to express those views. It does not help to conceal the ideas of visionary leaders such as Lembede and Sobukwe as the ANC government is doing.

A background of the story from the press on the EFF-Treasury imbroglio would suffice. There was a spat between South African Parliament’s finance committee chairperson‚ Yunus Carrim with the Chief whip of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Floyd Shivambu. This was a sequel to “a heated exchange in a committee meeting last week when Shivambu objected to a Treasury representative because he was not an African.”

Shivambu objected to the repeated presence of Treasury deputy director general Ismail Momoniat at committee meetings and asked why director general Dondo Mogajane did not appear. He said this undermined African “representativeness.”

 “The attack on the integrity of the Ministry of Finance and National Treasury by the EFF is exceptional because of its vitriol and simply the scale of the EFF’s ignorance of the workings of the Treasury and the ministry‚” Treasury said.

“The EFF’s attacks on Treasury are based on ignorance of the policy-making function of the National Treasury (the department) and the Ministry of Finance (as the executive authority which has oversight over the department), how the Treasury functions and its relationship with the Ministry of Finance.

“The EFF also displays a gross misunderstanding of parliamentary processes. Furthermore‚ the EFF has abused parliamentary privilege to throw mud at Treasury staff.”

I hold no brief for the EFF. However, what is wrong with the questions they posed about this Momoniat? How does the EFF not understand parliamentary processes when they have been there for about five years? How is a legitimate question interpreted as abusing parliamentary privilege and throwing mud at the Treasury?

On the Director General Dondo Mogajane’s sidelining and undermining of African representativeness, many people would want to know why his subordinate or junior is always representing their department in parliament. Perhaps it is Mogajane himself or some of his colleagues who leaked that information to the EFF that he is being undermined and that his Indian junior is the one who is preferred by their political bosses. Instead of being obdurate and defending the indefensible, Treasury should stop the practice forthwith. The EFF is probably not interested to know how Treasury functions when it is apparent that it is flouting the rules. As a tax payer I am also not interested how Treasury functions when it is abundantly clear that Treasury is flaunting its flouting of the rules. I think other South Africans feel the same way I feel.

The overlooking of the Director General raises eyebrows. It gives the impression that Treasury is hiding something. The alleged squandering of Special Pension funds must be probed and be exposed. Frankly, I don’t trust the current crop of leadership. I wish they could emulate Sobukwe who was described by those who knew him such as Z B Molete, former publicity secretary of the PAC, who said,

"Sobukwe belongs to a generation of popular but lonely leaders of men who are distinguishable by their devotion, dedication and determination. His ability as a leader did not merely lie in seeing what needs to be done but in setting his mind to doing it thoroughly, regardless of the consequences to himself. He was not afraid of isolation or suffering. He was not afraid to stand alone on principle. The life story of Sobukwe is a history of service, suffering and sacrifice. He provided principled, consistent, committed, decisive and selfless leadership to the cause of African liberation. He could have simply not bothered. He could have lived a comfortable middle-class life with his family. But Sobukwe chose to "starve in freedom rather than to live in opulence in bondage."

He was a courageous and fearless leader.

He did not mind being ostracised or victimised for "speaking truth to power." 

By Sam Ditshego

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