We need to talk about the ‘national question’

Some Economic Freedom Fighters leaders have recently made statements that raised hackles, but the fact remains that blacks still occupy the lowest rung in the ‘racial hierarchy’. Photo: Delwyn Verasamy

Some Economic Freedom Fighters leaders have recently made statements that raised hackles, but the fact remains that blacks still occupy the lowest rung in the ‘racial hierarchy’. Photo: Delwyn Verasamy

The hysterical responses by the Democratic Alliance, sociology professor Ashwin Desai, newspaper columnist Justice Malala, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation and the liberal media to the utterances about Indians deserve a response. They all ignore the fact that Africans are still at the bottom of the racial hierarchy. Other races must make sacrifices to achieve the goals of the national democratic revolution (NDR).

Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leaders are raising the issue of the “national question”, which has been central to the ANC’s Strategy and Tactics since Morogoro, which states clearly that the NDR is about the “liberation of black people in general, and Africans in particular”.

The EFF’s Floyd Shivambu was wrong to label treasury’s deputy director general Ismail Momoniat “un-African”. At the same time, it is wrong for the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation to lambast Shivambu just because this is about Indian South Africans. Malala failed to analyse why the majority of Indians voted DA, even in the Mandela era.

Indian communists such as Yusuf Dadoo, Essop Pahad, Ahmed Kathrada and Pravin Gordhan, and nationalists including Dullah Omar, Frene Ginwala, Fatima Meer and many others embraced the Strategy and Tactics analysis, which sees the Indian community coming second, after whites, as beneficiaries of colonialism and apartheid. These oppressive systems put coloureds after Indians and Africans at the bottom.

It was inappropriate for Malema to use the word “hate” in explaining how the majority of Indians treat Africans, but instead of lambasting the EFF leaders the Kathrada Foundation should be raising the issue of the marginalisation of Indians on the SABC, in soccer, in media adverts from the private sector, in the South African National Defence Force. It should also be driving patriotic workshops and seminars to educate Indians on the history of non-racism and the Freedom Charter.

Let us talk about the “national question” and how we deal with racial stereotypes, including labels given to Indians by Africans (amakula, amatsheketshe, omnanayi, ogobongwane). A collaboration of the Kathrada Foundation with those of Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, Desmond Tutu, and with nongovernmental organisations is needed to get all races talking about this issue. — Siyanda Mhlongo, KwaDukuza


 When we address the matter of the anti-African attitudes of a significant number of people of Asian origin and the Arabs, or even the tribalist and xenophobic attitudes of many Africans against fellow Africans, we should make a clear distinction between racism, which is systemic, structural and institutional oppression, exploitation, exclusion, marginalisation, denigration, brutalisation and dehumanisation of one group by another on the basis of the doctrine of the inferiority of the oppressed group as a collective and the superiority of the oppressor group as a collective, and racial prejudices that are buttressed and entrenched by specific material conditions, socioeconomic arrangements, socialisation and specific political orientations and choices.

We should also make a succinct differentiation between the racial prejudice of white people as a collective against black people, broadly defined (Africans, Latinos, Arabs, Indians) and “intra-racial” prejudice or ethnic chauvinism in the black community, which is the product of the colonialist practice of fostering affluence within a tiny segment of the black community in the midst of oceans of squalor, wretchedness, death and hopelessness in the rest. In some instances colonialism did this by using religion and language, and in some instances it used tribalism and ethnicity.

The result has been that in both colonial and post-colonial eras the advantaged group try to keep the privileges and affluence in its enclave through various forms of exclusion, exploitation, discrimination and isolationism, and the disadvantaged group develops strong feelings of resentment towards the other group. The end result is often two groups of formerly colonised and currently neocolonised people being at each other’s throats, while the descendants of the colonialists stroll half-naked on idealistic beaches, enjoying the legacies of racial-capitalism undisturbed.

A radical humanist Black Consciousness perspective focuses on confronting and deracinating the base of inter- and intra-racial prejudice and ushering in a material base that fosters equality, equity, justice, unity, oneness and humanness. — Mphutlane wa Bofelo


There’s a ghost rearing its head in our society. Twenty-four years into our democracy, we didn’t think racism would be at the centre of our debates. The unfortunate part is that those who claim to be our leaders are the very same people who are invoking these debates, with Julius Malema being the main culprit.

We all know that this debate will haunt us for years to come. But leaders should be sensitive when raising these matters. They must not act as though their aim is to cause a civil war. We all have a responsibility to build a society that future generations can be proud of. — Tom Mhlanga, Braamfontein

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