Julius Malema’s racially charged remarks have been met with mixed reactions. On the one hand, his party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, claimed his comments addressed racial challenges in the country, especially in KwaZulu-Natal. The Democratic Alliance, on the other hand, felt that Malema was using his leadership carelessly to strain racial relationships that have been decades on the mend.
Speaking at a Youth Day event at Matlosana Stadium in Klerksdorp in the North West, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and political firecracker Julius Malema took the opportunity to confront racial issues that he felt were important to address.
He began by outlining the hierarchy that divided the races during apartheid to ascertain that South Africans of colour had different experiences during that oppressive time.
“We were not all oppressed the same. Our oppression was worse than the oppression of the Indians. That’s why in the liberation movement we used to say that we are fighting to liberate Blacks in general and Africans in particular … Apartheid’s legacy is still there … The majority of Indians hate Africans, the majority of Indians are racist and we must never be scared to say that … I’m not saying all Indians; I’m saying the majority of them. The same thing applies to some of the Coloured brothers. They see themselves as more white than black. It is the reality we have to deal with.”
He went on to address the current situation in South Africa between black representatives and National Treasury deputy director-general Ismail Momoniat. Earlier this month, EFF chief whip Floyd Shivambu objected to the repeated presence of Momoniat at finance committee meetings in Parliament. Shivambu asked why the director-general, Dondo Mogajane, did not appear instead and said that this undermined African ‘representativeness’.
Malema said, “Floyd was saying, in a situation where 80% of Treasury staff is African, why is it being represented by an Indian?”
He went on to chastise journalists who “have made it their business to misunderstand the EFF. They know what we are saying; they understand what we are saying; they deliberately distort what we are saying. I want to tell all those Indian journalists who organised a mob against us that we are not scared of them.”
Breaking down bridges?
The Democratic Alliance (DA), South Africa’s official opposition party, logged a complaint with the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) against Malema for his inflammatory remarks. DA leader Mmusi Maimane said the party wanted the SAHRC to take action against the EFF leader because it stood for “one South Africa for all” and Malema’s remarks compromised the principle of a non-racial South Africa.
DA member of Parliament Haniff Hoosen added that his party approached the SAHRC because Malema was using his leadership to break down racial bridges instead of building them.
“Apartheid divided people on the basis of race, and to continue with the comments he made only serves to perpetuate those divisions. Our appeal to Mr Malema is to refrain from using language and comments that seek to sow division among racial communities,” Hoosen said in a statement.
Huffington Post political reporter Amil Umraw wrote an article titled “From One Indian to Another: Malema Is Not Entirely Wrong”. In the article he both acknowledges the truth in Malema’s statement and the dangers that his generalisation poses for race relations in South Africa.
“Let’s not pretend that some of us do not refer to black people as “they”. Let’s not pretend that in some of our communities we don’t have colloquial, mostly derogatory, titles for black people. Let’s not pretend that some of us don’t believe we could do our black manager’s job better, and that he or she was only appointed ‘because of BEE.’”
“Perhaps some of us turn a blind eye because our culture and upbringing have normalised a type of subtle racism. But racism doesn’t have to be blatant for it to be real.”
To counter the remarks, however, he said, “When you say most Indians are racist, you speak of a majority: 50 percent plus one. There is no research, no fact and no credibility behind your sweeping statement — I’ve checked.”
“The truth then, Mr Malema, is that most Indians are not racist. But alas, some of us are. It’s the same way some blacks, some whites, and some coloureds are also racist. Racism should not be blamed on one race group whenever the political atmosphere is ripe for it. It is an epidemic that crosses race, gender, age and creed.”
Race relations between Africans and Indians have always been precarious all over the continent, not only in South Africa. Culture and religion are a large part of this. The caste system in India, in terms of which people judge one another by skin colour, surname and socioeconomic rank, plays into how Indians interact with their African counterparts, now and over generations. Bridges are being built with every new generation, however, and we look forward to a time when race relations will be less charged.