Mdladlana: I am not a racist

Labour Minister Membathisi Mdladlana staunchly defended himself in Parliament on Wednesday against charges that he made racist remarks when commenting on the court judgement that recognised Chinese South Africans as black in terms of the equity acts.

“I am not a racist, I have never been a racist and I never will be a racist,” he said.

Mdladlana told a press conference on Tuesday that now that they have been reclassified, Chinese employers had no excuse to mistreat their workers or pretend to labour inspectors that they could not speak a South African language.

“They can speak Chinese, of course, in their homes,” he said. “I have absolutely no difficulty with that. But when we visit them, they must also remember that they are now coloureds. What I know is that coloureds don’t speak Chinese.”

Anchen Dreyer, who speaks on labour matters for the Democratic Alliance, said Mdladlana’s comment implied that one could assume that you can only trust people of your own race group. “Also implied in the minister’s comments is the idea that Chinese South Africans do not deserve to be given recognition under the Employment Equity Act,” she said.

Making a member’s statement in the National Assembly on Wednesday, Dreyer said: “One would hope that as South Africans we have put race classification behind us; that Act was already scrapped well before the transition in 1994. But now, it seems, race classification is back with a vengeance; however, this time without a legal basis.”

She said the minister was obsessed with dividing people into various race boxes, but she added: “The minister would serve South Africa’s people better if he welcomed the fact that many Chinese people who came to this country brought with them skills, entrepreneurship and a work ethic, and have created thousands of job opportunities.”

Replying to Dreyer’s statement, the minister insisted: “The African National Congress [ANC] has never been a racist organisation. The ANC is very proud of its struggles and battles against racism, and is confident of the future as a country free of racism ...”

He said that there had been much distortion of facts and legal issues surrounding the application made by the Chinese Association of South Africa against his ministry, and he urged everyone to read the judgement.

Finally he said: “If you are racist, don’t dump it on me. I’ve never been a racist and I will never be a racist. It came by three boats Dromedaris and Reijer and others. I’ve never been a racist that’s why I joined the ANC.”

Unfounded and inaccurate
Meanwhile, the Chinese Association of South Africa said on Wednesday that Mdladlana’s remarks about the South African Chinese community were unfounded, irrational and inaccurate.

In a statement issued through its attorneys, the association said it was “surprised” by the minister’s remarks.

His comments conflicted with the Constitution and the legislation he was supposed to administer.

“His unfounded generalisations about the South African Chinese community are factually inaccurate,” it said.

“The misconduct of any individual cannot rationally be attributed to a community as a whole.”

Had the minister read the high court papers, which detailed the extent to which the South African Chinese community suffered for a period of over 100 years, he would not have made the “incorrect and irrational” statements attributed to him.

“We, in the South African Chinese community, ask the people of South Africa as a whole to respect our dignity and the judicial process to which we were compelled and entitled to appeal for clarity regarding our status.”—I-Net Bridge, Sapa

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