On June 10 1997, the then deputy president, Thabo Mbeki, told the National Assembly that: “Assertions have been made about declining financial management standards in government, which is attributed to inefficient blacks, who, it is said, occupy their positions by virtue of misplaced affirmative action policies. In reality, we are not far from the day when the diplomatic language will slip and the point will be made openly, that ‘the Bantus are not yet ready to govern’ “.
I was reminded of this statement two nights ago when I read DA leader Helen Zille’s lament over the brief and tumultuous marriage with Agang’s Mamphela Ramphele in her statement titled: “Ramphele’s reneging on agreement is a sad day for democracy.”
Zille’s statement contains language of the kind to which Mbeki was referring 17 years ago.
Zille said: “We felt that Dr Ramphele would help us speed up the realignment of politics.” Ramphele has also been parroting the language of “the realignment of politics”. But there, in that one line, Zille reveals, albeit diplomatically, that the courtship had nothing to do with Ramphele: “WE felt … [she] would help US … ,” in the manner of a tool, a spanner, in short, a Trojan horse.
In additional seemingly benign yet revealing language, Zille is not mistaken as to “wie is die baas” – “who is the boss”.
As can be expected from a non-racialist like her, Zille has many black friends. So, Ramphele “is a long-time personal friend of mine and I sought to bring her into politics over many years”.
Whatever one thinks of Ramphele — I do not like her politics — she has been a political animal for all her adult life. Her depth and substance is altogether another matter.
Partly because the South African media and academic community uncritically embraces any black person who is remotely opposed to the ANC, they profiled Ramphele way beyond her real political standing. The DA came to swallow line, hook and sinker an image constructed in their own largely racially and socially homogenous circles. It was an image with which they, not the electorate whose hearts and minds they seek to entice, are comfortable. They are thus prone to hoisting themselves on their petard because the accumulated social experience of colonialism and apartheid, which informs their political choices instinctively, inspires comfort only with black people of silted depth.
Two things are therefore worth noting about Zille’s friendship and attempts “to bring [Ramphele] into politics”. Firstly, she gives us an idea of the power dynamics that have governed the relationship over the years. Secondly, Zille cannot fathom how, in that context, the native could suddenly stop behaving herself — and begin acting out of character.
The inescapable conclusion must be that: “Dr Ramphele has demonstrated — once and for all — that she cannot be trusted to see any project through to its conclusion.”
Understandably, Zille’s anguish verges on betraying the diplomatic tongue: “WE felt … [she] would help US!”
After all, only “WE” have always known, what is good for South Africa. Now that Ramphele has parted ways with her faculties, has forgotten who is boss and thinks she can stand on her own two feet: “It is not clear what her objective is, but whatever it is, it is not in the interests of the South African people.”
Seventeen years after Mbeki complained of casual racism, it endures. The fact that the racism implicit in Zille’s statement will go without nary a mention in the press and general commentary speaks volumes of our commitment to a non-racial society.
Whoever has ears, let them hear!
As for Ramphele, I would hope that she has done more than hearing. I hope that she has learned that crocodiles do not help human beings to cross rivers. But as often happens, this may as well be a false hope.
It is virtually impossible to participate in the political process meaningfully without critical reflection on the concepts of political discourse. For this reason, a brief reflection on the much-used phrase “political realignment”, the wishful euphemism for the defeat of the ANC, is unavoidable.
Political alliances, co-option and stratagems of containment do not necessarily lead to realignment. Neither does an elite pact such as the brief nuptial of the DA and Agang, which bears all three elements that constitute realignment.
Politics will continually realign as social relations change for better or for worse. The key determinants of realignment will not only be the self-inflicted injuries of the ruling party, but parties’ positions relative to addressing abiding racial, class and gender contradictions.
Political parties of essentially one hue like the DA and Agang, whose policies gloss over and evade this fundamental reality of South African society altogether had better be content with residing permanently in the zone of the fluctuation of the pluses and minuses that are characteristic of electoral politics.