So how dan­ger­ous is the ‘Queen of Racial Pol­i­tics’?

Her very name seems to send her de­trac­tors into parox­ysms of out­rage, writes Charles Molele

Sunday Times - - News & Opinion -

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.”

Pic­ture: ROBERT BOTHA

IN­FLAM­MA­TORY: Chris­tine Qunta, whose crit­ics cite her slav­ish sup­port for Mbeki, her Aids de­nial and her knee-jerk racial anal­y­sis

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