Racialising the debate polarises our society

What is unfortunate is the intentional use of racism by government and ANC leaders to vilify Murray. It is a dangerous route, riling up the nation and polarising attitudes. It racialises an issue that is not necessarily racist.

The painting is a visual and graphic representation of what many have already written and said about President Jacob Zuma.

Zuma has often justified his actions on the basis of culture – a culture that supports patriarchy in a country fighting to promote gender equality.

South Africans are expected to separate the actions and morality of the person Zuma from the actions and intentions of the leader Zuma, which is unfair. It will retard South Africa’s development into a consolidated democracy that is truly transparent, accountable and responsive to the aspirations of the people.

The ANC’s reactions to the painting show what kind of party we now have in government and raise questions about the quality of the ANC leadership, which has already been questioned by the likes of Nedbank chairperson Reuel Khoza. The responses raise questions about the intent of the state and the future South Africa it envisions. This is a party that has attacked the judiciary and seeks to curb media freedom.

Aggressive responses
If the ANC and its leaders can question the intentions and actions of key institutions in our polity, why should they, too, not be questioned? And why does any questioning elicit such aggressive responses, such as being branded a racist or a call for a boycott?  

This increased intolerance warns of where our democracy is going and the emotional propaganda that is being used. Maybe the concentration of power has led to a delusion that dissent is no longer permissible.

Or maybe it is part of a long-term strategy to get Zuma re-elected in Mangaung by getting people caught up in a drama to defend their culture and Zuma, who is made to represent all blacks, against those all-powerful racist whites, instead of dealing with issues such as corruption, poor service delivery, a weak education system and so on.

Nobody can deny the existence of racism throughout the South African reality, but it is wrong to go looking for racism where it does not exist, because it creates fractures that were not there before. It is difficult enough to heal the nation’s real divisions without creating more.

A different route
Zuma is right to be hurt by Murray’s portrayal of him, but he and the ANC could have chosen a different route for dealing with the painting and what Murray was trying to say about Zuma the man.

The ANC should have let the public argue about the issues the painting stirs up. It is not to say that blacks, or others, should overlook racism; any form of discrimination must be dealt with openly and publicly, as was done with the recent case of the model Jessica Leandra and her use of a racist insult in a tweet (on which there was no official government or ANC comment).

As blogger and columnist Khaya Dlanga has said, the president should rise above certain issues. Instead, the reaction to “The Spear” has consequences more damaging than the painting itself. The ANC and Zuma’s reactions have caused polarisation that could remain for a long time, unless the party and its alliance partners stop reverting to race as an explanation for every social and economic problem in South Africa.

Ntombele Khathwane is an entrepreneur and social activist.

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