Maimane’s mo­ment

CityPress - - Voices - Mondli Makhanya voices@city­press.co.za

So, here is some wis­dom from some of the world’s most fa­mous racists. The first quote is from US rightwinger James Buchanan, who is the in­tel­lec­tual ver­sion of the Ku Klux Klan’s David Duke. “Euro­pean colo­nial­ism was not an en­tirely neg­a­tive phenomenon for the Third World ar­eas that were oc­cu­pied. Most of the Third World was run by bru­tal chief­tains, sul­tans and kings, who did lit­tle to im­prove life for their sub­jects. Colo­nial­ism brought roads, rail­ways, bridges, medicine, lon­grange trade and Chris­tian­ity to back­ward Third World na­tions. Nat­u­rally, the Euro­pean pow­ers ben­e­fited most from colo­nial­ism, but the na­tives’ lives were of­ten im­proved,” Buchanan wrote.

Then there is our very own Steve Hofmeyr, the most openly racist South African.

“You must ap­peal to base sen­ti­ment as Africa has yet to yield a sin­gle in­tel­lec­tual, a sin­gle thought school, a sin­gle in­tel­lec­tual thought not in­spired by the very West you and [Pres­i­dent Robert] Mu­gabe de­test,” he said in an open let­ter to then ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema a few years ago.

There is Mar­ion Maréchal-Le Pen, who is part of the third gen­er­a­tion of a right wing French po­lit­i­cal fam­ily. Re­spond­ing to grow­ing calls in Al­ge­ria for France’s bru­tal and mur­der­ous colo­nial rule to be de­clared a crime against hu­man­ity, the 27-year-old MP and niece of pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Marine Le Pen was caus­ti­cally dis­mis­sive.

She tweeted: “If the French coloni­sa­tion of Al­ge­ria is a crime, then why do many Al­ge­ri­ans dream of com­ing to France?”

Clearly in­spired by these in­tel­lec­tual heavy­weights, West­ern Cape Pre­mier He­len Zille this week de­cided to add her voice to the his­tor­i­cal re­vi­sion­ism around colo­nial­ism in a se­ries of un­hinged tweets.

She tweeted: “For those claim­ing legacy of colo­nial­ism was ONLY neg­a­tive, think of our in­de­pen­dent ju­di­ciary, trans­port in­fra­struc­ture, piped wa­ter etc.”

She con­tin­ued to ask if there would have been “a tran­si­tion into spe­cialised health­care and med­i­ca­tion with­out colo­nial in­flu­ence...” and even added “just be hon­est, please”.

It was in­struc­tive that the first fig­ure to come to her de­fence – after the whole coun­try, in­clud­ing her party, had slated her – was the openly racist Hofmeyr.

“Could some­one, ANY­ONE, prove @he­len­zille wrong be­fore cru­ci­fy­ing, tram­pling and feed­ing her to the dogs?” Hofmeyr tweeted.

It was also in­ter­est­ing that, in feign­ing con­tri­tion, Zille turned to the form book of those who hurt oth­ers with prej­u­diced com­ments.

“I apol­o­gise un­re­servedly for a tweet that may have come across as a de­fence of colo­nial­ism. It was not,” she said, in some­thing that sounded much like Penny Spar­row’s, “I wish to make a pub­lic apol­ogy for my thought­less be­hav­iour. I have hurt the feel­ings of my fel­low South Africans.”

Or that of Zim­bab­wean crick­eter Mark Ver­meulen, who, after call­ing black peo­ple apes, said: “I know my com­ments were over the top and I apol­o­gise to all that I have of­fended.”

The thing with Zille’s apol­ogy is that, as with all the other empty with­drawals of racist out­bursts, it is mean­ing­less. The vic­tims may for­give and move on, but it does not take away the fact that the sen­ti­ment was ex­pressed. When she typed those tweets – re­gard­less of her state of mind – she was ex­press­ing her be­liefs. These were be­liefs that she had suc­cess­fully con­cealed dur­ing her years of stu­dent ac­tivism, coura­geous jour­nal­is­tic ca­reer, in­volve­ment in civil so­ci­ety for­ma­tions and her par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Con­ven­tion for a Demo­cratic SA, as well as her years in academia and in her for­mal po­lit­i­cal life.

It is point­less to call for politi­cians to “do the right thing” when faced with scan­dal and con­tro­versy. So it would be naive to ex­pect Zille to vol­un­tar­ily do what her party asked of many ANC politi­cians dur­ing her time as a se­nior mem­ber and later as leader of the DA. Al­though she has said things that vi­o­late the spirit of our Con­sti­tu­tion and fly against South Africa’s quest for social co­he­sion and har­mo­nious na­tion­hood, she is un­likely to ac­cept that her per­sonal prej­u­diced views are in con­flict with the of­fice she oc­cu­pies.

Zille will leave it up to the DA lead­er­ship to “do the right thing” about her. As long as Zille re­mains en­sconced in her Wale Street of­fice run­ning the af­fairs of the West­ern Cape gov­ern­ment on a DA man­date, the party will be in a deeply com­pro­mised po­si­tion. All the ep­i­thets that have been thrown at it will stick to it like the tooth­brush mous­taches un­der the noses of Hitler and Mu­gabe.

It goes with­out say­ing that Zille has pre­sented party leader Mmusi Maimane with the big­gest headache since he took over two years ago. But she has also pre­sented him with an op­por­tu­nity to emerge from her shadow.

Since he en­tered pol­i­tics in 2011, Maimane has been char­ac­terised as Zille’s pro­tégé. Even as he as­serted his au­thor­ity in the party, he bat­tled to shake off this pa­tro­n­is­ing view of him. Even after de­liv­er­ing a sig­nif­i­cant mile­stone as a leader after last year’s elec­tions – Tony Leon de­liv­ered the of­fi­cial op­po­si­tion sta­tus and Zille won the West­ern Cape and Cape Town – his crit­ics still in­sisted that he wasn’t his own man.

This week, in the weird­est of ironies, the per­son who is said to be his men­tor and spon­sor has given him the op­por­tu­nity to prove his met­tle by chop­ping off her head. He now has to show he has co­jones. And big ones at that.

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