/ 6 June 2012

ANC’s Afrikaner charm offensive slammed

ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe
ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe

As the ANC again courted Afrikaner groups this week, this time a farmers’ grouping, its efforts were criticised as emphasising division in South Africa by pigeonholing people along ethnic lines, rather than bridging such divides, with analysts pointing out that there is no homogeneous Afrikaans identity in any case.

“You can’t have a ruling party leader conducting us-versus-them debates on public platforms while trying to build relationships with minorities behind closed doors,” Eusebius McKaiser, political analyst at the Wits Centre for Ethics, told the Mail & Guardian.

Although the ruling party’s latest lekgotla was billed as an attempt to bridge the gap between emerging and developed farmers, Wednesday’s meeting saw mostly Afrikaans agriculturalists being hosted by ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe.

This consultation follows a similar one hosted on May 8, which saw 19 Afrikaner organisations meeting with the ANC to discuss ways of bridging the gap between white Afrikaans speakers and the ruling party.

“This is about charting a new way forward and building a new South Africa, free from division,” said Daryl Swanepoel, co-convenor of the ANC’s Progressive Business Forum – the body tasked with arranging the meetings.

‘Clumsy’ efforts
But far from succeeding, this series of meetings – peddled by the ANC as an “outreach programme” attempting to “foster relations” between the ANC and Afrikaners as part of a greater “nation building” initiative – were “clumsy”, McKaiser said.

“The ANC needs to engage the race debate without focusing too much on race itself. You can’t break down divisions by building them up. By meeting with Afrikaners alone, there is no fostering of relations within the greater South African context.”

Leader of the Freedom Front Plus Dr Pieter Mulder said that while he appreciates the ANC reaching out to Afrikaners, its attempts at interaction were erratic.

“Every few years we get a chance to talk with the ruling party; there is no consistency. I am not sure if there is some other agenda to these current interactions, like electioneering or PR, but more consistency would be better,” Mulder told the M&G.

Mulder added that while discussions were “always good”, there ought to be definitive plans to act on what is spoken about.

‘Talking isn’t enough’
“It takes two to tango, and it’s useless if one party comes with a hidden agenda. Afrikaners will always be here in South Africa and we need to find out how we will co-exist: peacefully or through confrontation. That won’t be done through talking,” Mulder said.

Political commentator Max du Preez said it was a fallacy to think of Afrikaners as one united group.

“There is no such thing as an Afrikaner archetype anymore. There is no single political entity for Afrikaners anymore, it’s simply a language grouping – nothing more, nothing less,” Du Preez said.

Du Preez also said these meetings were indicative of the “Zuma-styled ANC” which seeks to “pigeonhole” South Africans along particular racial and ethnic identities.

“We need to get beyond this debate; it’s pre-1994 thinking and we all have the same issues as everyone else. Forget ethnic divisions, we need to see all South Africans as citizens first before we start talking about their ethnicity,” he said.

‘Get used to it’
In response to these criticisms, the ANC remained unapologetic about their attempts at “bringing about social cohesion.”

“How can we be fostering tribalism if we reach out to minorities? South Africa faces huge problems as a result of social distance between our people based on racial lines,” ruling party spokesperson Keith Khoza told the M&G.

Khoza said anyone critical of the ANC’s outreach program was attempting to scupper the ruling party’s efforts to heal rifts in the nation.

“We will not be deterred in our attempts at building a new South Africa that is free from prejudice. People who don’t want to see that happening must just get used to that fact,” Khoza said.