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‘Racist’ black South Africans who kept their jobs?

From Dianne Kohler-Barnard to Chris Hart and Penny Sparrow, the rallying call has been for punitive action, namely remove them from their jobs. In addition the discovery that Sparrow is a DA member has prompted the ANC to lodge a complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission pleading the commission to investigate racism within the DA. But it is not just the ANC that felt vindicated, social media was set ablaze as many delighted to have caught the DA with their pants down. The apex of the outrage being the push to criminalise racism.

Below is a list of quotes from high-profile black South Africans whose racial slurs did not elicit the same mass moral outrage we’ve seen in the case of Sparrow, Hart and Justin van Vuuren. Not only was the outrage more muted when weighed against their public profiles and the trio’s relative obscurity but there was no move to beyond an apology and remove them from their posts. Secondly, most of the offenders are ANC members, yet there has been no call to investigate the ANC as a party. Ironically Lindiwe Sisulu, who has called for the Estate Agency Affairs Board to report to her on action that can be taken against Sparrow, is herself a multiple offender when it comes to offensive and racial slurs. This is not a competition premised on who can be more racist, the hope is that the conversation should move away from trying to pathologise one race and painting another as victims. It is not my view that the comments below are all racist, only that they most certainly would have been deemed as such had they come from the mouths of white South Africans.

Lindiwe Sisulu

What better way to showcase the illegitimacy of the recent furore over Chris Hart’s tweet than to begin with Sisulu’s own tweet about entitlement. In July 2014 speaking about plans to eradicate the 2.3 million unit housing backlog she said,

“What makes an 18-year-old think the state owes them a house? It’s a culture of entitlement … we can’t continue with a dependency culture.”

In Parliament in June of the same year she accused Mmusi Maimane of being a “hired native”. The comment was eventually ruled by parliament chairperson Thandi Modise as unparliamentary. It is near improbable that a white MP could get away with calling a black member of parliament a hired native.

In November 2012 in a heated discussion with David Maynier in the National Assembly over chartered jet flights used by the minister, Sisulu retorted

“Keep your flea-infested body at peace and sit down.”

Julius Malema

A look at a list of racially provocative slurs would be incomplete without Malema. The leader of the EFF has become more demure in his racial taunts in an attempt to fashion the EFF as a party welcoming to white South Africans. Such is the amnesia that Floyd Shivambu has tweeted “unfortunately the racist statements of #PennySparrow define many white people and DA supporters in SA & the indecisive Gov is complicit”. Shivambu was seated right next to Malema in April 2010 when Malema lashed out at BBC correspondent Jonah Fisher,

“This is a building of a revolutionary party, and you know nothing about the revolution … so here you behave or else you jump … chief can you get security to remove this thing here … and you don’t come here with that tendency, don’t come here with that white tendency, not here … you are a small boy, you cannot do anything.” He concludes this rant by calling him a “bastard” and a “bloody agent”.

Richard Schweid, an author who in his book The Cockroach Papers: A Compendium of History and Lore gives a thorough examination of cockroaches said “if you want to say something nasty about someone, call him a cockroach: that lowest of the low, vilest of the vile, most easily eliminated without a pang of remorse, the cheapest of all lives”. In October 2010 addressing a crowd in Stellenbosch Malema called Helen Zille a cockroach.

“If Zille had her way, she would declare the Western Cape an independent republic. You have put a cockroach in Cabinet and we need to remove that cockroach by voting the ANC into power.”

Penny Sparrow took a feather from Malema’s cap it would seem, again deriding Zille he said in April 2012,

“Have you ever seen an ugly woman in a blue dress dancing like a monkey because she is looking for votes?”

But Malema’s ire is not reserved only for his white political opponents, in May 2011 speaking of his refusal to debate Lindiwe Mazibuko he said,

“She is a tea girl of the madame, and her role must remain there in the kitchen for making the tea for the madame. Because that’s what she chose for herself. So I am not going to be debating with servants for the madame.”

Baleka Mbete

Malema is not the only one fond of calling his opponents cockroaches. The “joke” was turned on him in February last year when the speaker of the National Assembly speaking at the Mmabatho Civic Centre in Mafikeng said,

“We all need to [work] … because if we don’t we will continue to have the cockroaches like the Malemas … roaming all over the place.”

Isaac Mahlangu

Speaking in Nelspruit in 2009, the Mpumalanga ANC Youth League secretary spoke of those who had defected to the Congress of the People (Cope) saying,

“Everyone knows that Cope was formed by insects that are hell-bent on holding onto power”, and would be “sprayed with Doom until it perishes”.

Before calling them insects he had also said “not one of those mad dogs who defected from the ANC and formed the Assembly of Polokwane Losers should get anything”.

Anele Mda

September 2009 Congress of the People youth leader Anele Mda and member of Parliament calls the Cope deputy secretary general Deidre Carter a “stupid, white token bitch”.

At the time Charlotte Lobe, Cope general secretary, made a statement that it was a once-off incident and speaking of the two-month suspension of Mda said, “this is not punishment, it is rehabilitation”. In 2011 Mda was welcomed back to the ANC with open arms at an announcement where Jacob Zuma was present.

Jimmy Manyi

Jimmy Manyi, the then director general at the department labour, appeared on kykNet in March 2010. He spoke of coloured people in the Western Cape saying,

“This over-concentration of coloured people in the Western Cape is not working for them …they are in over-supply where they are.”

Khaya Dlanga

This illustration here is added last, as an example of how black South Africans even outside of the political space can make racially dubious remarks in the name of humour. Not incidentally I have no objections to making fun of our racial insecurities, the trouble is that a white person would not get away with making the comments Dlanga does in this November 2008 YouTube video titled “I want to marry a white woman”.

“Black women do not like it one bit when brothers are into white women … I have noticed, especially the last few years that when a black man marry white woman they seem to create this super child. So I want to have my own little tribe of super children … this is my evidence; look at Barack Obama his father is a black man, his mother is a white woman.”

Based on the reactions to this week’s accused trio, if the proposed criminalisation of race were in place when the above comments were made many prominent black South Africans would have been charged. This is not including the many unknown black South Africans like Velaphi Khumalo, whose social media profiles are yet to be scanned. If we will not abandon the obsession with our racial identities, then at the very least perhaps we can lay bare the hypocrisy and dishonesty of treating black South Africans as the victims.

We’re all suffering from living in a country absolutely mad about race. Now that we’re all victims perhaps we can stop the finger wagging and conjuring of absurd laws and set our sights back on more productive areas of outrage and policy innovation such as the economy (myself included).


  • Gwen Ngwenya is a liberal writing primarily in defence of the idea of the individual that is constantly under attack by collective feelings and racial identity. Gwen holds a masters degree in Economics from the Université Paris-Est in France and works in finance for a global financial technology company.


  1. John Milton John Milton 7 January 2016

    What a fantastic and balanced article. Looking forward to how the author will now be bullied and insulted, which will prove her point to a tee.

  2. Maggie Louw Maggie Louw 7 January 2016

    Thank you for writing this Gwen. Listening to Koketso Sachane on Cape Talk right now, I am seething at some of the ridiculous thoughts people have. I am in saddened.

  3. Bludlust Bludlust 7 January 2016

    An interesting article but…

    There is a fine balance between racist and political correctness. People should be responsible for making themselves aware just where these boundaries lie. The context of reference to race must also be considered. If PC overrides context – as it too often does, then we will NEVER (as South Africans) be able to have this very, very important discussion.

    Sadly – if one takes into account the intensifying emotion of current affairs – talking will ultimately be replaced by a Pyrrhic victory for whoever thinks they may have won the end-game.

  4. Busang Motsepeng Busang Motsepeng 7 January 2016

    The outrage is selective and will not help the fight against racism. The ANC must also tell South Africans about their achievements in fighting racism since they took over from the Nat’s. My impression is they failed to address it like they failed on so many issues affecting the people.

  5. DavyH DavyH 7 January 2016

    Some fairly tame comments in there and in the case of Lindiwe Sisulu the “flea-infested” comment is merely insulting. Some really vile stuff has been and is being posted though and it needs to stop.

    I don’t believe it to be representative of the majority of people in the country, but it’s causing a hardening of attitudes across the entire spectrum – the last thing we need.

    More to the point, it plays straight into the hands of the politicians. Who needs that?

  6. Johnny Johnny 7 January 2016

    Thank you for this perspective.

  7. Veldmeisie Veldmeisie 7 January 2016

    This is where inconvenient truths start biting, let’s sit back and watch the denials.

  8. Jack Kukard Jack Kukard 7 January 2016

    Well said…

  9. keithbe keithbe 7 January 2016

    The ANC are no different to the “Nats”.

  10. Marty Marty 7 January 2016

    You can also add zuma to this list !

  11. Rainbow Man Rainbow Man 7 January 2016

    Bar Malema most of these are just insults.

  12. Stretch Stretch 7 January 2016

    Nice article, wonder why it got published. MINORITY groups will always suffer because the MAJORITY groups Is well just that the MAJORITY. Even if all the minorities stood together against the racism, against them who’s going to listen. Our government should be the first the start a EQUAL movement against racism. Instead of using it to their advantage.


    Great article just sad the actual people who need to read this will not, racists of any colour is breaking this country even more, also another observation, this race issue always get worse the closer we get to elections ????

  14. Mthetheleli Mthetheleli 7 January 2016

    Long article about insults and prejudices, but definitely NO black racists.

  15. Philip Machanick Philip Machanick 7 January 2016

    Yes, let’s talk about inequality and the ANC’s culture of patronage.

    The ANC is using racism as a cover for avoiding solving the real problems. We can all contribute in our private capacity by denouncing racism wherever we see it until it is no longer socially acceptable anywhere.

  16. Philip Machanick Philip Machanick 7 January 2016

    1. The DP (predecessor of the DA) won over the Nats’ support base in 1999. This is why they keep getting these nasty surprises.
    2. The Nats leadership decamped from the DA and joined the ANC in exchange for a cabinet post.

    So yes, there is some alignment between the two major parties and the former apartheid governing party.

  17. Manezi S. Manezi S. 7 January 2016

    I agree our ppl are very quick to call out others…..and it’s clearly all part of the ANC’s political diversion.

    Meanwhile only 17% of municipalities received a clean audit for 2013/2014, that’s billions missing, but we hear NOTHING like this.

    Blind political allegiance is dangerous and erodes our society.

  18. EGB EGB 7 January 2016

    Congratulations! You are brave to write this in an atmosphere of official intimidation.

  19. DavyH DavyH 8 January 2016

    Their clothes are much better and they no longer wear Homburgs. If that isn’t progress, I don’t know what is.

  20. Gwen Ngwenya Gwen Ngwenya 8 January 2016

    Thank you all for the feedback, both on here and other platforms. It would have been easy to think the entire country has gone mad. But that is just an availability bias, the people you interact with in your small world do not represent everyone. There is hope of reasoned ways of engaging with one another. Widening my circle of opinion has been enriching.

  21. Marc Marc 8 January 2016

    Its in the interests of the current ANC leadership to keep SA divided, its their trump card and elections are coming. Remember Cyril Ramaphosa saying that voting for the DA in 2014 will bring back apartheid?

  22. PointBlankZA PointBlankZA 8 January 2016

    Just because you cannot see it doesn’t mean it is not there staring back at the rest of us.

  23. Mark Turing Mark Turing 8 January 2016

    This racism is about the battle for jobs. The government is doing nothing to get the economy going!

  24. Fred Basset Fred Basset 8 January 2016

    Smart, realistic and brave. People like should be the future of South Africa but I’m not sure if they will make up the numbers required. Gwen should be cloned.

  25. Fred Basset Fred Basset 8 January 2016

    She’ll definitely get some flack but she’ll take on the chin and laugh it off. She’s strong.

  26. Alexis Alexis 8 January 2016

    Thank you for writing this. It’s good to hear from a cooler head on the issue.

  27. Karl-Heinz Sittlinger Karl-Heinz Sittlinger 9 January 2016

    Well…they all compare animals to people…racism is often in the eye of the victim and the insensitivity of the perpetrator. What the one sees as racism, the other sees as an insult.

  28. rizaj rizaj 13 January 2016

    Our politicians are peddling divisiveness and politics of fear in advance of the municipal elections. I just read Obama State of the Nation address. When I read his speech, its very apparent that we have lost our way. Can’t we hire Obama? Obama for SA president!!!?

  29. JenWebbe JenWebbe 23 January 2016

    But unfortunately we can’t bar Malema. He is the leader of the second biggest opposition party and, unlike the white bigots, he reaches millions of impressionable youth. Why are the whites taking all the flack that the ANC should be getting? It wasn’t the whites who made all the empty promises to the population in order to be re-elected. It was the ANC, who are now doing everything possible to make whites the scapegoats for their failure to live up their unrealistic promises.

  30. Johan van Wyk (ouboet) Johan van Wyk (ouboet) 26 January 2016

    A well-researched piece.

  31. Tokopol Tokopol 29 January 2016

    Precisely. Whites blame the ANC, blacks blame apartheid, and neoliberals fleece us all and laugh.

  32. TheRealMidnite TheRealMidnite 14 March 2016

    I can just imagine the big wigs of the current regime getting all hot and sweaty at the idea of silencing their critics under the pretext of racism.

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