I consider myself an honorary southern African. My generation was emotionally and physically involved in agitations for the end of apartheid and for the freedom of southern African countries under the yoke of apartheid and colonialism. As undergraduates, we marched on the streets, shut down airports, engaged with the international media, picketed establishments perceived as sympathetic to the cause of the oppressors and generally did what we had to do as young members of the ‘frontline states’.
Our commitment to the cause of liberation was unrelenting.
I invoke that honorary citizenship today as I seek to find a middle ground between the ideological positions of firebrand Black nationalist Julius Malema and Dirk Hermann, chief executive of the Solidarity trade union which caters to the interests of white workers.
Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) is advocating that all land in South Africa be compulsorily acquired by government without compensation. His advocacy is not without basis. Black South Africans constitute 79% of the population but only directly own 1.2% of the country’s rural land and 7% of formally registered property in towns and cities. On the other hand, white South Africans, who constitute 9% of the country’s population, directly own 23.6% of the country’s rural land and 11.4% of land in towns and cities.
Malema achieved fame as Youth League President of the African National Congress (ANC) before his radicalism brought him on a direct collision course with the party’s ‘moderate’ position on national affairs. He was eventually expelled but has been thriving, even becoming more relevant by the day, since mobilised fellow far-left elements to found the EFF in 2013.
Born in 1981, Julius Sello Malema is idealistic. He was not around in those heady days of anti-apartheid struggle. But he has seen enough of its aftermath to insist on immediate change even if it would entail going back to the trenches. Those who have seen war know what it means. They would never want an encore if they could prevent it.
I fully understand the fire burning inside the revolutionary young man. Like Marcus Garvey, he believes that, “Those who make or accumulate their wealth by robbing, exploiting, and plundering the innocent, ignorant, and helpless of humanity, are worse than murderers and hardened criminals; they are fiends, and should be outlawed and ostracised from society, caring not how munificent their after gifts and philanthropy to care for those they have already morally destroyed or harmed.”
“They killed people to get that land and those minerals”, says Malema. We are not going to give them money when we take the land back because it will be like we are thanking them with money for killing our people. We will never do that, little did they know that we are not scared of blood. We are scared of defeat. We don’t want to be defeated but seeing blood is not what we are scared of as long as that blood delivers what belongs to us we are prepared to go to that extent.
But I say, caution!
Benjamin Franklin already warned us that, “All wars are follies, very expensive and very mischievous ones. In my opinion, there never was a good war or a bad peace”. After Nelson Mandela had successfully negotiated the end of apartheid and the installation of majority rule, it has always been clear that there was still a lot of work to do. I don’t think Mandela himself envisaged a return to the trenches.
Representing a similar tendency like Malema, but this time on the side of the whites is Dirk Hermann, Chief Executive of Solidarity (Afrikaans: Solidariteit), a trade union that claims to be protecting the interests of minorities in South Africa but whose membership is mainly Afrikaners. The other day, Solidarity staged a demonstration at the Sandton-based Sasol energy and chemical company against the latter’s staff share scheme meant to empower more blacks. According to Hermann, the newly introduced scheme called Khanyisa discriminated the white employees. Mostly white workers took to the streets of Secunda in Mpumalanga last Thursday to demonstrate their disapproval of a share scheme which offered 25% shares exclusively to historically disadvantaged black staff at petrochemicals firm, Sasol.
So, the unfair advantages cornered by the whites over the ages should continue without any hope for redress? It is precisely because of people like Hermann and his crew that the Malemas of this world make sense to many otherwise moderate South Africans.
To Malema’s credit, it must be said that It was his party that first proposed a motion in Parliament which led to the establishment of a Constitutional Review Committee, to investigate whether Section 25 of the Constitution should be amended to allow the state to expropriate land without compensation. But if I may borrow some wisdom from our forebears, violent paddling is not the answer to a violent storm.
Blacks in South Africa deserve deliberate economic inclusion to redress centuries of deprivation. Whites in the country must also be treated as full citizens. You cannot build a country based on iniquitous foundations. But both groups have to make a mental shift away from a winner-takes-all position cast in granite . We all know what happens when an irresistible force collides with an immovable object.
(To be concluded next week)
Re: An inspirer called Ibukun Awosika
Correction: Mrs Ibukun Awosika is the second Nigerian woman to become Chairman of a commercial bank, the first being the late Mrs. Bola Kuforiji-Olubi.