Last week, the subject of an African identity, again involuntarily thrust itself upon our national conscience where two distinct, yet not so inseparable events occurred. One event appeared to be a personal, spur of the moment incident. The second was a long-planned centenary celebrations event that looks like it was crowned with a personal statement. On the face of it, one can conclude that these were isolated events that confirm the different tides in the maelstrom of South Africa.
For some of us who are active in the sphere of identity politics and its anomalies in democracy, last week marked another opportunity to advance an honest debate
Floyd Shivambu, Deputy President of the Economic Freedom Fighters whose demeanour often reflects an obdurate, short-tempered politician and intellectual ripped into the Deputy Director General of Treasury, Ismail Momoniat at a committee meeting in Parliament recently. He accused Momoniat of undermining African leadership.
According to Shivambu, Momoniat is repeatedly showing up at meetings of Parliament’s Standing Committee of Finance to represent Treasury. For Shivambu, the apparent constant presence of Momoniat at these sessions translates to the undermining of African leadership since it appears Treasury lacks Africans to fulfil the role.
For the record, Parliament’s Standing Committee on Finance previously expressed concerns that the same people show up to brief parliament and the representation fails to reflect the demographics of South Africa hence efforts must be made on the part of Treasury to evidence transformation on this score.
There could, therefore, very well be a case for a claim of a National Treasury overhaul since it is possible that some, over a period of time, may have entrenched themselves as the end-and-be-all of what treasury should reflect.
Shivambu’s claims against Momoniat extends to that of an African leadership role being usurped. Surprisingly, the elites, in responding to Shivambu resorts to the politics of deflection.
While Shivambu, in his typical uncouth style showed his hand and heart, the responses to him came mostly assimilated in what I choose to call – “the politics of deflection” since a crossbreed of former activists, politicians and businesspersons came to the rescue of Momoniat, without seeking to deal with the proverbial elephant in the room, the controversial subject of an exclusive African identity as borrowed from apartheid.
The fundamental issue on Shivambu’s statement on Momoniat remains unanswered. It is the usual embarrassment of the elites that is on display again.
We have seen this before. Remember the so-called xenophobia attacks? They seldom engage the matter at hand but resort to quick fix counter attacks as a means to avoid the real issue at hand.
Enoch Godongwana the ANC Chairperson of the Subcommittee for Economic Affairs in his official response fell into this same trap of defending the person, work-ethic and contributions of Momoniat with the liberation struggle as the epicentre.
Shivambu stood accused of idiocy and was labelled a racist. Those who did not listen to Shivambu failed to hear him within the framework of an exclusive African identity but instead, retorted that his “attack” on Momoniat was absurd, ill-informed and rather nonsensical.
None of those who self-define as black within the ANC told Shivambu in an unequivocal sense, Momoniat is as African as you may ever be.
They could not say that because that would be admitting the contradiction of a ‘black in general and African in particular’ notion premised on degrees of pain as the defining principle. That position has come to define the ANC and government policy over the last 24 years.
Unfortunately, among the political elite, those who self-define with an Indian identity, in typical herd-mentality fashion took umbrage to this ‘cabal’ notion and rather sought to defend an Indian identity when they were supposed to question the illogic of Shivambu and the ANC National Question on an exclusive African identity, clearly a missed opportunity.
We all know the identity configurations of African, ‘Black’, ‘White’ ‘Coloured’ and ‘Indian’ as used during Apartheid hardly had any cultural essence to it but are endemically racist labels depicting a hierarchy of relational powers of oppression.
For the record, the role of Momoniat is not the issue and cannot conveniently be made the central issue. What Shivambu acted out is the power and privilege of an exclusive African identity, which excludes Momoniat.
Ramaphosa tells Afrikanerbond ‘You are Africans, we must accept that’.
Last week, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa the ever-smiling, media-sensitive, translucent salesman of a new-dawn campaign delivered the keynote address at the centenary celebrations of the Afrikanerbond formerly the Broederbond.
Remember that clandestine white male exclusive club notorious for its grip on the politics and economy of apartheid South Africa?
Ramaphosa in my assessment delivered a very well-balanced speech, in which he took his host on a historical journey that shows the reality of race centred inequality. He challenged them to engage the land question instead of seeing it as a threat.
However, Ramaphosa also said: “You are Africans, and we must accept that”. This makes the debate on the exclusive African identity as acted out by Shivambu a very interesting one in this season.
When Ramaphosa says; “you are Africans”, it can either mean that the claim as advanced by many from the Afrikaner group finally reached his ears. Or did Ramaphosa use the opportunity to remind those who claim an Afrikaner identity (a relatively young concept for Afrikaans speaking white identity) that they are exactly what they never wanted to be named African as projected by them?
We know apartheid’s benefactors who contested an Anglo-Boer war and are in constant attempt of reinventing themselves, evidently long ago realised their choice definition for those they had targeted in the aim of exacting the worst abuse of racist white power dominance came back to bite them since it only alienated them.
They have been yearning to hear they are Africans though not in the myopic and racialist dehumanised sense of what they categorised a group since 1948.
When Ramaphosa says; ‘and we must accept that’, is he begrudgingly conceding defeat to the Afrikaner claim to an African identity? Is it a rude awakening or is it a matter of finally permitting sense to prevail? Did Ramaphosa break with ANC identity politics and policy?
Did the Ramaphosa, one-liner redefine the subject of identity politics for a post-apartheid South Africa since he broke with the traditional stance hitherto upheld of ‘black’ and ‘African’ distinctions?
We are not yet sure what to make of Ramaphosa’s statement. Is this ANC policy, or is it new-dawn policy? On another level was Ramaphosa the politician courting votes or was he just engaging in political banter?
The jury remains out on the issue and we have not yet heard from Luthuli house as to the statement of its president on the African identity subject matter since it warrants unpacking for its meaning in the ANC and its policy footprint.
We warrant knowing if this statement which he delivered to the applause of the Afrikanerbond members, is the new thinking in the ANC? What are the implications of his statement? Was Ramaphosa inadvertently answering Shivambu who does not share the notion of an African unless it is in apartheid description?
Does this signal the break with the propagators for a hegemonic thinking around a National Question era of identity politics that has gripped while it choked on with empty non-racial rhetoric? How will this shape Government Policy of redress as SA moves forward?
The irony of what transpired last week was that Shivambu from the EFF articulated ANC policy as it relates to its accepted National Question identity politics when the ANC and SA President Ramaphosa in his address broke with that same ANC policy with his announcement of an African identity for Afrikaners.
Momoniat is as African as Shivambu may ever hope to be not because he was in the liberation struggle, not because he is a respected civil servant and neither because Ramaphosa told Afrikaners they are African, but due the fact that any time one seeks to use Africa for more than direction and geographical position you run the risk of choking in your own assumptions.
We are all African when we consciously dispense of the apartheid frame of what constitutes an African.
Clyde N.S Ramalaine
Political Commentator & Writer