The ANC is positioning itself at the forefront of the racism fight and will seemingly grab any opportunity to shame racial slip-ups by rival parties.
The fight against racism looks set to be one of the main themes of the ANC’s local government elections campaign this year, with the party firing an early salvo at its traditional January 8th birthday celebrations over the weekend.
President Jacob Zuma, delivering the ANC’s birthday message at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium on Saturday, said the party must lead society in the fight against racism. He warned of tough measures against citizens found to be racist.
The issue reared its head in previous elections with the ANC painting the Democratic Alliance as a white party with a white leader that black people should not vote for. The DA has since elected a black leader, Mmusi Maimane, and the ANC will have to change tack somewhat.
The governing party has now tapped into a growing anger and activism against racism in South Africa, especially on social media where many middle class voters hang out.
The racism issue, however, resonates beyond the middle classes with the poor who might feel that they have been disowned by apartheid, so economic freedom also came up in Zuma’s speech.
The DA has been particularly vulnerable to racism accusations in the last few months. It took action against MP Dianne Kohler-Barnard for reposting a Facebook post which harked back to the days of apartheid president PW Botha. It also had to suspend Penny Sparrow’s DA membership after she posted racist comments on her Facebook page and caused a widespread outcry.
And while the Economic Freedom Fighters still appeared to be away on their Christmas break, the ANC took the kind of activist stance usually practised by the EFF by going to the police to lay charges against Penny Sparrow.
The party also organised pickets in front of Standard Bank over economist Chris Hart’s comments on Twitter. It thus took ownership of the anti-racism debates of the past week.
In his speech on Saturday, Zuma called on the party’s branches to be activists and to lead society.
“We call on ANC branches to develop specific campaigns against racism and to involve their communities, civil society and religious organisations in these campaigns,” he said.
He repeated this later in his speech, linking it to political education: “Our branches must develop a direct campaign to promote non-racialism throughout communities.
“There must be ongoing political education throughout the ANC and we direct our branches to have consistent political activities and campaigns.”
These classes should happen at least once a month, he said.
He also called on his party to “unite all the people of South Africa, black and white”.
Then added: “There is enough room in the ANC for everyone.”
The DA of late has been boasting that it has turned into the only real non-racial party in the country, representing black and white, while the ANC has been bleeding some of the little white support it had.
Zuma painted the ANC as the original champion of non-racialism. Widening the call to “comrades and compatriots”, he said: “The ANC has historically pursued the ideal of non-racialism as a South African reality.”
He called on “all the people of this country to work together and defeat the demons of racism and tribalism”.
Then he took a stab at Kohler-Barnard: “It is clear that there is a tiny minority in our country that still harbours a desire for separate amenities and who idolise apartheid-era leaders who made our country the skunk of the world.”
He said the ANC put in place laws to prevent discrimination on the basis of race, and hinted that the party would use these to “end racial exploitation in all its forms and wherever it occurs: in the workplace, in the education system, the health sector, in the administration of justice, in access to government services and in the private sector.”
Later he shifted his attention to economic change, saying the private sector lagged behind “when it comes to the effective utilization of all productive forces in society. Many boardrooms and many top management positions remain white male dominated. This must change.”
Radical economic transformation has been a campaign driven by the EFF’s Julius Malema from the time he was in the ANC Youth League. The ANC has held onto the slogan as well, but the rallying cry will get a new life when coupled with the party’s drive to eradicate racism and apartheid’s legacy.
“While great progress has been made in reversing three centuries of colonial marginalisation and neglect, there is much more that needs to be done to speed up change,” Zuma said.
“We will continue to address the economic legacy of apartheid. Economic freedom must become a reality in our lifetime!” he said.
But then he emphasised that it was the ANC’s project, originally: “The ANC has long set out to place our economy on a new growth path that will de-racialise the economy and make a fundamental break with the ownership patterns of the past.”
Turning to land, Zuma promised that the ANC would “continue to work with all sectors to find lasting and meaningful ways of effecting redress for the centuries-long injustice of land dispossession. The return of land must enable an increase in food productivity.”
The EFF this weekend came onboard the debate with a provocative opinion piece by Malema entitled: “Why do white people despise blacks”.
The DA on its part blamed the racial tensions on Zuma’s leadership, saying the party under him has abandoned Nelson Mandela’s vision of a non-racial country.