The Julius Malema hate speech trial has served to expose how truly divided we are as a nation and how fickle this “rainbow” that supposedly makes up our nation truly is.
During the trial proceedings it became blatantly obvious that South Africa is no more united and reconciled now than it was during the 1980s, at the height of Apartheid, On the one hand we had Afriforum and its legal counsel, who purport to represent the Afrikaner nation and its fears in a united South Africa and on the other hand we had Julius Malema with his unique brand of populism, which the media has mistaken for African Nationalism, purporting to represent the impoverished black majority, who make up a large percentage of the population in South Africa.
The Afrikaner group was still using the terminology of the 1980s in its cross examination of Malema, exposing fears of: “die swart gevaar”, “die rooi gevaar” and such outdated concepts which have no place in a united South Africa. They even had the audacity to claim that there was a deliberate, state-sponsored genocide against Afrikaners occurring in South Africa today.
Malema in his testimony sought to portray himself as some kind of modern day revolutionary, challenging an unjust system that seeks to subjugate the black South African and entrench white hegemony, as has always been the case in South Africa. He sought to justify the singing of a song which for all intents and purpose had its place in the South Africa of the 1980s but has no place in the South Africa of the twenty first century that we are presently trying to construct.
The sad reality of this whole saga was that it was an accurate reflection of the fears of most white South Africans as well as the anger and resentment of a large proportion of black South Africans. White South Africans feel they are being strategically forced out of the new South Africa, Black South Africans feel that white South Africans are still stuck in the old South African mindset of “baas-skap.” Malema and Afriforum simply represent the two strands.
So here we are almost two decades after our “miraculous” transition, still stuck on race issues and instead of disappearing, they seem to be growing more prominent with each week that goes by. One need only listen to the commentary of most ordinary South Africans on our popular radio and television shows as well as read the comments section of most of our newspapers to verify this.
We keep talking past each other. We rarely if ever truly listen to one another. When it comes down to it most of the public discourse in South Africa is informed by race and racial issues. We try paper over it but it keeps cropping up. At my local watering hole in Fourways Johannesburg, we have a group of pub regulars who come to the pub each day, after work for a few cold ones and some camaraderie. This group is known as the “pub family.” It is made up of people of all kinds: rich, poor, black, white, Indian and Coloured. This is a group that gets along and has loads of fun together and is in many ways a great reflection of what South Africa should be, but last week when I was at the pub, we started discussing the Malema trial and all of a sudden the group was divided along racial lines.
The whites who make up the “pub family” seemed to take one side on this particular political issue whilst the darkies where united in their support of Juju and his views as expressed at the trial. This would be alright if it wasn’t a reflection of broader South African society. We may get along, work together, live in the same neighbourhood and even drink at the same spot together but when push comes to shove and political issues are put to the fore we always reveal how truly divided we are as a nation.
Now the world celebrated the “miracle” of the birthing of the Rainbow Nation and the reconciliation effort spearheaded by Nelson Mandela amongst many but in truth this was all a facade. It was a false reconciliation. South Africans have never been truly reconciled and all Nelson Mandela did was defer the exposure of racial tension and racial issues to a later period. For doing that Mandela was acclaimed as a saint by the world and lauded as some kind of superhuman messiah but from the context of what we are seeing in South Africa today it may be fair to say that Nelson Mandela sold us out. He got glory and critical acclaim for spearheading a reconciliation which never truly was and now that he has gone “the chickens are truly coming home to roost” and it is not a pretty picture. Perhaps we need to revisit Mandela’s place in our history as a nation. Instead of acclaiming him as some sort of saint who brought us together and helped create a nation out of the rubble of a divided past, maybe we should see Mandela for what he truly was/is: a great charmer, figurehead who purported to unite us whilst in reality all he was doing was deferring our racial tensions for a later period when he wouldn’t be around to deal with the fallout. For this the world applauded him and we foolishly marched behind him not realising that issues that get swept under the carpet without being dealt with head-on, have a habit of coming out at the most inopportune of times as we are seeing with the growing racial tensions in present-day South Africa.