There are two compelling reasons why I was thrilled to see President Jacob Zuma confirming that Dr Pieter Mulder, leader of the Freedom Front Plus, was being given the post of deputy minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries.
First and foremost is that it tells us that the president — and by extension the government and ruling party — is keen to send a signal to the Afrikaans community, that they are greatly valued by the country and that their future lies in South Africa.
This is the second time that this has been done, the first being in terms of the negotiated agreement which afforded former president FW de Klerk the deputy presidency under former president Nelson Mandela, and here where the ANC, in terms of an unsolicited act, sought to not only express their appreciation of that community but also the desire, that they consider themselves an integral part of the planning for the country’s future.
In terms of numbers the FF Plus does not seem, by any stretch of the imagination, to represent the majority of today’s modern Afrikaans community. Their results at this years election are clear proof that if anything they would have battled to form the opposition even during apartheid. That must not, however, detract from the fact that the president felt compelled to lean over to the right to ensure that the Afrikaans community be made aware of the high regard which the government has for them.
If Zuma is adamant that the more conservative Afrikaners be made to feel part of the new South Africa then how much more so the majority who are verlig and who have adapted to the new multiracial country like a duck to water?
Moreover and in light of the fact that this community bore the brunt of the criticism in respect of apartheid, it is a much welcome sign that the “blame game” is finally being replaced by a new direction which seeks active participation in government by conservative Afrikaners.
On site I have always stressed that apartheid was a “white thing” as opposed to an Afrikaner-only issue. Hopefully, and if the country can build upon this new path, sooner rather than later this will no longer be an issue that concerns anybody.
Accordingly the Democratic Alliance is not only being cynical in taking issue with this appointment but certain of their members seem to have forgotten the legacy that this community carried from apartheid. Attempting to deny them Zuma’s hand of friendship — which carries with it the majority of the people of this country and which Mulder’s appointment seeks to confirm — in the name of party politics, is what constitutes the real betrayal in this case.
Secondly one of the most critical issues facing the country and indeed the Afrikaans community is the issue of land. During the Zuma presidency land redistribution as well as the plight of farmers in general are likely to become, among others, items requiring top priority. Accordingly, in practical terms, there can be no doubting that Mulder will and should be able to play a significant role in the cabinet in respect thereof.
Land redistribution has to be dealt with urgently because 15 years post-apartheid the black community has not, in real terms, even begun to see ownership that represents the demographics of this country. If we have a repeat of the same pace as we’ve seen in the past 15 years then I will be asking questions of the government.
Therefore it is important to this exercise that a very important stakeholder in this exercise be represented at the highest levels of government.
In order to achieve the goal of effective land redistribution without making the same mistakes as Zimbabwe it is important that the Afrikaans community, and particularly the farmers, be able to add their guidance and experience to that of the government’s appointed officials.
The fact that Mulder will also be able to speak to cabinet colleagues about other issues of concern to this community is an added bonus.
Nothing that I have read or seen requires the FF Plus to forfeit its independence or abandon the right to challenge government while affording in return for this appointment. As such they will continue to oppose the government on issues which they believe are not in the best interests of their voters.
Why then is Mulder’s acceptance of the cabinet post a betrayal?
In truth it is actually one of the most promising steps taken by the government and the conservative Afrikaans community to start finding common ground and will, hopefully, go a long way towards the day where we all consider ourselves simply South Africans.
See it in that light and build on it.