So how dangerous is the ‘Queen of Racial Politics’?
Her very name seems to send her detractors into paroxysms of outrage, writes Charles Molele
THE name Christine Qunta seems to send her detractors into paroxysms of outrage. The responses are generally sparked by anything from her racially charged attacks on her foes to her shameless defence of President Thabo Mbeki on almost all issues.
But it is her inclusion as one of 12 candidates selected by the National Assembly’s communication committee to sit on the SABC board that is dominating dinner conversation.
When the official announcement about the inclusion of her name in the final list of candidates for the board was made, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, political parties and media organisations, among them the Freedom of Expression Institute, had a fit.
This week, her most ardent critic, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), threatened court action if she was officially reappointed to the SABC board.
The TAC’s Zackie Achmat said Qunta was one of the directors of Comforter’s Healing Gift, a company involved in selling untested medicines purporting to cure HIV/Aids. This automatically disqualifies her from holding office, argues the Aids lobby group.
So who is this woman who generates so much outrage and debate?
Is she an intellectual dynamo, as purported by some of her friends in need, such as author Ronald Suresh Roberts? (She is Roberts’s lawyer, by the way.)
More importantly, how dangerous is Qunta to the health of the South African body politic if Mbeki goes ahead and appoints her chairman of the board — as looks very likely?
For most of the past decade, Qunta has been part of a legion of erstwhile members of the Black People’s Convention (BPC) and the SA Students’ Organisation who aligned themselves with the ruling party after the demise of apartheid — which in itself is an interesting phenomenon, says commentator Rhoda Kadalie.
“The support comes from a legal practice that apparently is heavily dependent on government contracts for work,” argues Kadalie.
When Mbeki came to power, Qunta curried favour with him by defending some of his most disturbing political oversights.
Her vociferous support for Mbeki became evident in 2000, when she became one of the 12 signatories supporting him at the outset of the Aids-denial debate. The signatories included such loathed personalities as Anthony Brink, Anita Allen, Matthias Rath, David Rasnick, Roberto Giraldo and Ronald Suresh Roberts.
She also came to the president’s defence when he accused African National Congress stalwarts Cyril Ramaphosa, Mathews Phosa and Tokyo Sexwale of planning to oust him.
If she is appointed as chairman of the board, it will definitely be as a reward for her unwavering support of the president, observers say.
Qunta, a senior founding partner and director of the law firm Qunta Incorporated, declined to answer questions sent to her lawyer, Athol Gordon, by the Sunday Times.
Political analyst Xolela Mangcu said the prospect of Qunta’s appointment as chairman of the SABC board was “terrifying”.
Mangcu said: “If she is appointed, the broadcaster will become Mbeki’s platform to drum up support for his third term ahead of the ANC’s 52nd conference in Limpopo. Her role at the SABC will be to enforce the racial and political intolerance that has become part of our political culture.”
The official Opposition, the Democratic Alliance, says her inclusion in the list of candidates for the board is lamentable.
“She’s the long-standing Africanist associate of our president,” said the DA’s communications spokesman, Dene Smuts.
“We cannot support her. We have never supported the racial prism through which she views all criticism — criticism of the president, criticism of corruption against black South Africans covered in the media and now, upon our questioning, all criticism of the SABC.”
Freedom of Expression Institute spokesman Virginia Setshedi said her organisation believed that Qunta should not be given another chance as a member of the board. It would be even worse if she became chairman, Setshedi said, because she had not demonstrated an ability to be a strong and assertive leader.
The previous board, under the stewardship of Eddie Funde, to whom Qunta reported, failed to rescue the editorial integrity of the SABC and turn it into an independent, accountable public broadcaster.
After a commission of inquiry into allegations of blacklisting, for example, the board expressed confidence in the head of SABC news, Snuki Zikalala, in spite of damning findings against him. The same board failed to address the biggest problem in the SABC, namely its pro-status-quo bias in reporting the most controversial political questions of the day, including the decision not to broadcast an Asikhulume interview with Jacob Zuma, the booing of deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and finally, the decision not to screen a controversial documentary on Mbeki.
On an intellectual level, Qunta, a former black consciousness adherent, has further polarised South African politics by her propensity to play the race card.
In the blog world, her race-obsessed politics have earned her the nickname of “the Ann Coulter of South Africa”, referring to the former lawyer and now writer for Human Events magazine, who has gained notoriety for making inflammatory statements about US Democrats, liberals, blacks and Muslims.
Last week, tough-as-nails columnist Kadalie bemoaned Qunta, saying that she “racialises every issue regardless of the topic and, as a lawyer, she fails spectacularly to be scientific and objective in analysis”.
“In her columns, she tops the list as Queen of Racial Politics,” wrote Kadalie in Business Day, “so much so, that in response to one of her columns in the Cape Argus, I commented that if apartheid had not existed, she would have invented it.”
Gender activist and SA Men’s Forum general secretary Mbuyiselo Botha said he was baffled by Qunta’s racialisation of every issue.
“Crying racism stifles debate because you question people’s bona fides when they criticise you simply because they are of a different race. That’s my problem with her.”
In interviews with the Sunday Times, some of her former comrades in the black consciousness camp attributed her race-obsessed politics to the fact that she has been battling to find her identity ever since her days as a young, radical pupil at Arcadia High in Bonteheuwel, Athlone, in Cape Town.
Both her critics and admirers say, as a BC adherent, she has shed her coloured identity.
“As far as I am concerned, she is from the Bataung [a Tswana tribe meaning People of the Lion] in the Northern Cape, but it’s better to ask her yourself,” said Vuyisa Qunta, her ex-husband.
Former Pan African Congress stalwart Mxolisi “Ace” Mgxashe, and a close friend of Qunta in exile, said: “She is coloured. But after a black consciousness and Africanist transformation, she no longer regards herself as a coloured person, but as an African or black person.”
Christine Dout, 55, was born in Kimberley, raised in George, and later went to live with her family at Number 14 Blombos Street in Bonteheuwel, Cape Town.
At the University of the Western Cape, Qunta was among Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) activists expelled from the campus in 1973 during a strike that mobilised communities to such an extent that the apartheid regime was forced to employ the first black vice-chancellor, Richard van der Ross.
She served as secretary to the interim committee of the BCM in the Western Cape with the likes of Jimmy Yekiso (now a High Court judge), Danile Landingwe (now a councillor), and Wallace Mgoqi (a former land claims commissioner and Cape Town city manager).
After a spell of detention without trial, Qunta went into exile and joined one of the first BCM formations engaged in plans to set up a military capability in Botswana.
She then moved to Sydney, Australia, where she studied law at the University of New South Wales.
According to her ex-husband, Qunta returned to Southern Africa afterwards and received training in the armed auxiliary unit of the Azanian National Liberation Army.
“Christine has a sterling track record in the liberation struggle and is an asset to township communities that Ms Kadalie does not even see in her daily routine,” said Vuyisa Qunta.
“Those who talk about race all the time (like my ex-wife) do so because they experience it daily. Liberal thinking projects the views of those not living with the continued burden of blackness in transformation-resistant South Africa.”
INFLAMMATORY: Christine Qunta, whose critics cite her slavish support for Mbeki, her Aids denial and her knee-jerk racial analysis