The ANC youth leader hit back at his critics this week, including those who objected to his racial take on Caster Semenya. In an interview with Matuma Letsoalo he also implied that Blade Nzimande — who has accused him of ”African chauvinism” — is a fake working-class leader. In the wake of President Jacob Zuma’s statement that a race debate would take South Africa backwards, he attacked ANC leaders for ‘cowardice’ on the race issue
You see the row around Caster Semenya as a racial issue. Why?
People who complained about the gender status of Semenya were from a different colour. The white media, in particular, were not supportive. For instance, John Robbie [Radio 702 presenter] said it was wrong of President Jacob Zuma to congratulate Semenya before the outcome of the tests.
Most South Africans, including white people, seem to have been firm in their defence of Semenya …
The majority of the people who supported Semenya were blacks. Whites took a back seat. They don’t see this [the humiliation of Semenya] as an important subject.
How would you distinguish the Semenya case from that of German tennis player Sarah Gronert who was subjected to a sex test?
Our case is different. When the matter was raised, you could see the determination to exclude the child. Athletics South Africa was never consulted [by the International Association of Athletics Federations] when the issue of testing Semenya’s gender was raised. In other incidents, athletic associations are taken on board. On this girl [Semenya] it was an isolated arrangement.
You blamed the media for the controversy around Semenya. Why?
The majority of the media institutions, in particular the white media, were not supportive. The message we were getting was that they doubt Semenya’s gender.
Won’t your comments, as an ANC leader, fuel racial tensions?
The issue of race must be confronted. We should not be afraid to talk about it. White people are still refusing to participate in the activities of blacks. We extended the olive branch by attending their activities, but they participate in a small number in our activities. The problem is that we are being led by cowards who do not want to confront the race issue. The central question in our country is race. If we don’t talk about it, whites will think they are doing the right thing. We are calling on them to respond to the national question of race.
Explain your complaint that Jacob Zuma has appointed racial minorities to the economic ministries, while blacks are confined to the security portfolios.
When we speak, we don’t seek to please anybody … We are not part of a faction. When people enter a debate, they should resist labelling others as African chauvinists or racists. Once you do that, the youth league will never respect you. It means you are a fake. We don’t care about fakes. There is a small group of elites in the alliance who present themselves as working-class leaders, while there is very little to show that in everything they do. They spend most of their time drinking red wine. We will never be intimidated by such people.
Will the ANC Youth League push Zuma to reshuffle his Cabinet?
We don’t want a reshuffle. We don’t question the capacity of all those people in the economic cluster. But going forward, we want the attainment of economic power. Appointing Africans in positions of responsibility will inspire confidence in young people. They should not grow up knowing economic portfolios belong to minorities.
Cosatu has said that race, gender and class struggles have been at the heart of the national democratic revolution and that none of these has priority. Do you agree?
I agree. But when you raise the issue of race, it does not mean you’re downgrading the issue of gender or class. Our take on the appointment of the new Reserve Bank governor is that President Zuma could have hit two birds with one stone by not just appointing a female, but a black female. Our struggle is for the liberation of blacks in general and Africans in particular because they were the worst oppressed.
Reacting to Malema’s comments, the ANC’s Brian Sokutu said: ‘The ANC subscribes to nonracialism. In terms of its composition the ANC has blacks, whites, coloureds and Indians at leadership level.
‘Our vision is that of the creation of a nonracial, non-sexist and democratic society. We do admit that we as a society still have a long way to go in this process of nation-building.
‘In terms of sport and other cultural activities it is a fact that certain sporting codes still reflect race in terms of support. This is something we all have to work to eradicate.
‘Mokgadi Semenya and the entire South African team did not compete in Berlin for one race group, but for all South Africans.â€