SA — where hat­ing is eas­ier than think­ing

• In­stead of com­ing up with ideas to solve the coun­try’s prob­lems, politi­cians are re­ly­ing on di­vi­sion and rage

Business Day - - IN-DEPTH - Tris­ten Tay­lor konyagi, Tay­lor is a post­doc­toral fel­low in phi­los­o­phy at Stel­len­bosch Uni­ver­sity.

South Africans are an­gry peo­ple. That’s what I’m told as I travel up East Africa, on my way from Jo­han­nes­burg to Rus­sia. And as my mo­tor­cy­cle con­sumes the kilo­me­tres, I’ve been won­der­ing about our acidic and in­su­lar po­lit­i­cal dis­course.

The doc­tors, med­i­cal re­searchers, artists, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists I have met from Botswana to Kenya seem to know more about our pol­i­tics than we know of theirs. A lot more. Peo­ple keep ask­ing me about Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma and the ANC, some­times through the lens of trib­al­ism. When I try to ex­plain our pol­i­tics and the var­i­ous fac­tions within the ANC — the na­tion­al­ist, cap­i­tal­ist, so­cial­ist, black con­scious­ness, re­li­gious, tra­di­tional, pro­gres­sive and plain-out cor­rupt wings of the party — my ex­pla­na­tions are be­gin­ning to sound strange. Dis­cor­dant even.

What is our pol­i­tics? From the per­spec­tive of be­ing out­side SA but within Africa, I can’t help but think­ing what we have is the pol­i­tics of hate.

EFF leader Julius Malema stirred up old di­vi­sion be­tween In­di­ans and blacks. The ANC bla­tantly played the race card in the last elec­tion. King Good­will Zwelithini helped to set in mo­tion an­other spasm of xeno­pho­bic vi­o­lence in 2015 and re­cently took a dig at the Con­sti­tu­tion, which ap­par­ently is un­fair and anti-African.

Two weeks ago, and after too much a haz­ardous gin­like sub­stance strangely pop­u­lar in Tan­za­nia, I some­how ended up at a house party in Iringa.

A Tan­za­nian asked me where I was from. Maybe, he thought, Ger­many?

When I said SA, he went, “Oh, you are one of us.”

Us. I don’t of­ten hear that back home.

Race mat­ters in SA. You don’t have to be all that old to re­mem­ber states of emer­gency. Eco­nomic inequalities be­tween dif­fer­ent races re­main stark. Po­lit­i­cal par­ties gain sup­port from par­tic­u­lar eth­nic groups: when South Africans en­ter the vot­ing booth, racism flour­ishes.

Let’s face it. In many ways, apartheid is still alive. And the idea that in 1994 we’d all hold hands and sing We are the World un­der a great big rain­bow was a bit naive.

His­tory also helps to give a par­tial ex­pla­na­tion of SA’s you­ver­sus-me men­tal­ity. We had war be­tween Inkatha and the ANC, in KwaZulu-Natal and on the high­veld. We had all those ban­tus­tans, askaris and vi­o­lence be­tween the black con­scious­ness move­ment and the ANC.

Peer­ing back a lit­tle fur­ther, there is the cred­i­ble the­ory that we are an un­nat­u­ral coun­try. SA did not ex­ist be­fore 1910. The Bri­tish threw to­gether for­merly in­de­pen­dent African king­doms, Afrikaner republics and its colonies into a sin­gle po­lit­i­cal en­tity. Like many other African coun­tries, our bor­ders are the prod­uct of Lee-En­field ri­fles and old boys from Eton.

Go­ing way back, there is even the dis­place­ment of the San by Bantu-speak­ing peo­ple im­mi­grat­ing from the north.

So is the his­tory of con­flict and the forced amal­ga­ma­tion of dif­fer­ent eth­nic groups into one coun­try a com­plete ex­pla­na­tion for our pol­i­tics of hate?

Look­ing at other African coun­tries seems to in­di­cate they are not. Namibia’s re­cent past is a cat­a­logue of war, bod­ies tied to the front of Casspirs, re­pres­sion, colo­nial bor­ders and oc­cu­pa­tion. The Ger­mans com­mit­ted geno­cide on the Herero and Nama peo­ples, driv­ing them out into the desert to die in 1904. If that was not enough, the Ger­mans threw the sur­vivors into con­cen­tra­tion camps.

Yet, and de­spite hav­ing prob­lems, Namibia does not seem to have our bit­ter dis­course.

Tan­za­nia pro­vides an­other coun­terex­am­ple: in 1964 un­der the lead­er­ship of Julius Ny­erere, Tan­ganyika and Zanz­ibar were com­bined to form Tan­za­nia. To para­phrase a Tan­za­nian I met in Arusha, Ny­erere took two coun­tries and formed a na­tion.

While not ev­ery­thing is rosy in Tan­za­nia — what coun­try is all green fields filled with milk and honey? — it seems to have been able to trans­form dif­fer­ent cul­tural and re­li­gious iden­ti­ties into a na­tional iden­tity.

So much for the the­ory that our his­tory of re­pres­sion and be­ing an un­nat­u­ral coun­try are

PEER­ING BACK FUR­THER, THERE IS THE CRED­I­BLE THE­ORY THAT WE ARE AN UN­NAT­U­RAL COUN­TRY

enough to ex­plain our an­gry po­lit­i­cal and so­cial dis­course. So what is go­ing on?

Our politi­cians have ei­ther run out of ideas or are too lazy to think of new ones. The best the EFF can do is waf­fle on about the na­tion­al­i­sa­tion of mines and land re­dis­tri­bu­tion. Per­haps the com­man­der-in-chief should crack open a his­tory book and read about Ny­erere’s dis­as­trous African so­cial­ism.

The DA and the ANC con­tinue to en­dorse the Na­tional Devel­op­ment Plan (NDP), which is a pipe dream. The NDP re­quires strong eco­nomic growth, some­where around 5.4%. A GDP growth rate of 1.1% isn’t go­ing to cut it.

We hear very lit­tle about con­crete plans to solve so­cial is­sues such as crime and child abuse. The only re­sponse to our con­tin­u­ing ed­u­ca­tion cri­sis is to lower the pass rate. Wastew­a­ter treat­ment, sec­ondary road main­te­nance, hous­ing and the state of our en­vi­ron­ment are all for­got­ten top­ics as far as our politi­cians are con­cerned.

Why? There has been a sys­tem­atic fail­ure to solve these prob­lems and it is as though our lead­ers have given up.

In­stead of lay­ing out de­tailed poli­cies for real change and devel­op­ment, our politi­cians have reached out for an old and dan­ger­ous kind of pol­i­tics.

Di­vi­sion and ha­tred have re­placed the de­bate of ideas.

For­eign­ers have taken all our jobs, let’s burn them. White peo­ple con­trol the coun­try, let’s drive them into the sea.

In­di­ans, whites and coloureds need to stand to­gether un­der a great blue ban­ner and fight back against the black horde. You see, I told you, this is what hap­pens when blacks run the coun­try. Look at Zim­babwe. Why are they so stupid to vote for the ANC?

Gays, les­bians and athe­ists are wickedly un­der­min­ing the so­cial fabric.

As if the above was not enough, Zuma has been more than will­ing to reignite the old scourge of trib­al­ism — 100% Zulu boy and all of that.

And be­cause of our his­tory and colo­nial bor­ders, the pol­i­tics of hate finds fer­tile ground. Our politi­cians are al­low­ing old di­vi­sions to prop­a­gate for their own short-term po­lit­i­cal gains.

The na­tional dis­course has be­come an echo cham­ber where an­gry name-call­ing has re­placed ra­tio­nal de­bate on how best to fix the coun­try.

Africa has much to teach us. We can learn from Tan­za­nia’s ef­fort to cre­ate a na­tional iden­tity. Kenya’s his­tor­i­cal and cur­rent pol­i­tics should warn us of the dan­gers of trib­al­ism.

But at the mo­ment, the only thing we can teach coun­tries north of the bor­der is how to blow the very real chance of be­com­ing a de­vel­oped na­tion.

/Thuli Dlamini

Hate cou­ture: Lead­ers such as King Good­will Zwelithini, right, and the EFF’s Julius Malema have re­sorted to stir­ring up di­vi­sion and ha­tred, a trend that seems to take root eas­ily due to SA’s po­lit­i­cal and so­cial his­tory, the au­thor says.

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