Zohra Dawood, Director, Centre for Unity in Diversity
22 October 2018
If national elections do take place in the second quarter of 2019 as predicted, might the electorate be asking political parties to account for performance in the preceding period, in addition to inquiring about pending plans and proposals captured in a manifesto for post-election implementation?
In most mature and maturing democracies, this would be the case. This certainly ought to be the case for South Africa in what would be a quarter century into democracy. The reality, however, is somewhat different.
The reality for many South Africans of voting age is that the burden of the current feels all-consuming, whether the State of the economy, service delivery, crumbling infrastructure, crippling crime or corruption. While each of these impacts everyone, it certainly does not affect all in equal measure, with some able to buffer its material impacts better than most, reinforcing an us-and-them mindset largely divided by access to resources or as some analysts refer to it, a class response to crisis.
An issue few can escape from, is that of the re-racialisation of politics and life in South Africa and the neglect of an active agenda to build social cohesion and address the national question of building a South Africa that belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.
Mondli Makhanya, in an op-ed in City Press (14 October 2018) titled “Mondli Makhanya on the national question …”examines the issue through the prism of the turmoil currently taking place in Westbury in Gauteng. He writes, “Whenever protests erupt in Gauteng’s coloured townships, race becomes central. If communities are experiencing the service delivery problems that afflict all poor communities, racial discrimination is blamed. Housing backlogs are attributed to the neglect of coloured people. More recently, crime and gangsterism in communities has been blamed on the “racist” ANC government, which does not care about the lives of coloured people. Ditto the drugs crisis, which is a cause and effect relationship with gangerism”. The takeaway from this quote must give us pause to reflect on how the neglect of the nation building project corrodes the prospects of the country and what is the basis for resorting to race as explanation of a myriad of issues as outlined above. That the quality of life issues raised here are a matter for urgent attention, is not in question either.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) will predictably use race as a central tenet of their election strategy and perhaps their supporters take comfort in their party being true to its word, however repugnant this might be to most others. For other political parties though, an interrogation of their positions and progress on the national question as a core consideration for a voting outcome must be examined. The voting public must hold their feet to the fire on a question that held so much promise at the dawn of democracy.
The above by no means suggests that addressing the question of building a non-racial, socially cohesive society is the singular task of political parties or that it resides only within the purview of political life. Business, civil society and the media are critical components in the task of nation building. The responsibility vests with each of us, individually and collectively.
However, as we have experienced through several national and local elections, a feature of electioneering is that of appealing to the best and/ or worst instincts in human nature. As we have witnessed in the last while, race-baiting seems to have become commonplace. The denigration of dissenters or critics as being little more than racists is not a subtle but rather a strident attempt to shut down debate and hold power to account. It is therefore vital that fora are available such as the Centre for Unity in Diversity’s upcoming Roundtable Discussion on The Loss of Civility in Discourse to ensure that the centre holds for how deliberations and discussions are held and promoted. Makhanya concludes his article with a caution that is worrisome, “In the absence of national leadership on this subject, the field is fertile for racial entrepreneurs to sow seeds of discord. We must treat the national question with greater urgency.” Election season might well be open season for the punting of views that drive people apart as opposed to that which should bind us together in anticipation of a shared future. We must decide.