'Darkies' and 'coconuts' trends in Parliament

The parliamentary debate about the president’s State of the Nation speech is an annual tradition where opposition parties can say to the head of state what they like to his face, and African National Congress (ANC) Members of Parliament (MPs) try to impress him while President Jacob Zuma is forced to sit through it all. So Tuesday was due to be another boring day in Parliament.

But suddenly a lone voice saying “Madame Deputy Speaker, on a point of order,” changed the tone of what was set to be a dry, predictable afternoon.

The voice was Democratic Alliance (DA) spokesperson and MP Lindiwe Mazibuko, who complained to Deputy Speaker Nomaindia Mfeketo about a comment made by Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande about “a government of darkies”.

No one from the ANC side said a word until Mazibuko stepped up from her backbencher seat and asked the speaker if the word “darkie” should be allowed in such an august institution like Parliament.

Then the party started. Nzimande started muttering in isiZulu about Mazibuko being a ‘coconut’, ridiculing her Model-C schooling.

Mfeketo dismissed Mazibuko’s complaint because the latter could not produce a rule in the parliamentary rulebook to explain why “darkies” is outlawed in Parliament. And all the way Nzimande kept on muttering in isiZulu, to the great pleasure of the ANC MPs who, for once, did not seem to mind a derogatory term for black people.

Eventually former ANC chairperson and now Congress of the People (Cope) sometimes-president Mosiuoa Lekota got up and put the matter to rest. He told the speaker if an opposition party (read: white) MP were to talk about “darkies”, the matter would not be put to rest that easily. In the face of growing discontent from the opposition benches, Mfeketo relented. “I’ll think about this and make a ruling at a later stage.”

Throughout it all, Zuma was quietly chuckling along, giving knowing glances to Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe. Although the topic may have been unsavoury, Nzimande reached his goal—to make the president sit up and notice him.

As the incident aired on eNews the word “Blade” became a local trending topic on Twitter as people expressed their outrage.

@Willi_W said: “People are focusing on the wrong thing with Blade Nzimande. Who cares that he said ‘darkie’? It’s sad that the race card is used so often.”

@Alexff84 said: “Forget the use of the term ‘darkie’ and focus for a second on the ANC’s claim that they have competently managed education.”

Others on Twitter solicited popular 5-fm DJ @GarethCliff Gareth Cliff for his opinion. “I don’t think ‘darkie’ is a big deal,” he said. “What worries me is that Blade’s insecurities mask his logic.”

Mazibuko tweeted during the debate that she had basically been accused “of being a ‘coconut’”.

“As if I care,” she said, and moved on quickly to tweet about the rest of the parliamentary debate.

And so, as one journalist described it on Twitter user, are the Blades of our Lives.

Mandy Rossouw
Verashni Pillay

Verashni Pillay

Verashni Pillay is the editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian. She grew up in Laudium, Pretoria, learned her trade at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, spent a spell in Cape Town as an online journalist, and now loves living in Jozi. Her interests are broad but include a focus on politics and multi-platform storytelling.
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