It seems an oxymoron, but the probing – even if in the adversarial context of legal thrust and parry – that has been conducted so far in the Equality Court is inexorably driving the treacle-like process of reconciliation, of finding commonality forward. In South Africa today and on the eve of momentous local government elections, that has to be a good thing. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
The Julius Malema Hate Speech Trial is about many things. The political machinations of Malema himself, with most people forgetting that when he started belting out these songs he was under investigation by the SA Revenues Service and for his involvement in companies that produced broken bridges in Limpopo, what’s happening within the ANC, our varied histories, and of course, fear and racism. But what it’s also about is two extremes trying to convince us that the national reconciliation project has failed. We will not be suckered that easily.
We’ve already spoken about how this case brings people from our two different pasts together. It doesn’t do so in a constructive way, although some good may come of it in the end. Rather, it’s a clash of temper and a thud of argument, and not the productive thrust of a good debate. It’s tempting to blame all the players in this, the ANC, Malema, AfriForum and Transvaal Agricultural Union. In fact, that wouldn’t be fair. The ANC, so far, has behaved pretty honourably. As ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe (who else) put it on Tuesday, “We must address the fears of Afrikaners, but not at the expense of the aspirations of the black people of South Africa.” Only Mantashe can talk about how he hears an Afrikaans rugby song featuring the word “Bok” (and, incidentally the name Mannetjies Roux, but it’s not that Mannetjies Roux-liedtjie) and make it stick. It’s a tactic he used last year, when he stood up and sang “Die Stem” in a bid to show the ANC hadn’t lost the plot with these songs.
Malema hasn’t spoken yet so we can’t comment on him, while AfriForum has been very measured so far. They’ve obviously talked about Afrikaans fears and the issues facing their communities. They could be accused of looking after only one group of people, but they’re achingly aware of how this case is not really about the law.
However, we cannot be so kind to TAU. Their advocate Roloef du Plessis is the bullocking bulldog of this piece. The man who you know is going to make an issue out of anything. On Tuesday, when Winnie Madikizela-Mandela arrived traditionally late, he stopped his line of questioning until she had sat down, and then eventually continued with a theatrical “If I may now continue”. It was unnecessary, and for goodness sake, she is Winnie.
TAU was at its worst on Monday. Wally Serote, poet, freedom-fighter, reconciliation expert, former CEO of Freedom Park etc. was in the box. He had been incredibly honest about why he joined the struggle. “I joined the ANC determined to kill white people, it was the ANC who taught me non-racialism and MK who taught me the virtue of the controlled armed struggle.” It was an incredible story he told. He explained how he’d been involved in the decision to retain the Voortrekker Monument, despite the “humiliation” for which it stood.
TAU’s witty response: “Has the monument ever threatened to kill you?” It was not a classic legal manoeuvre. Serote, of course, was ready, with “the people who went to it did…they called us kaffirs and beat us”. It was the perfect riposte.
Then Du Plessis launched into a blistering, “but hundreds of statues of Afrikaner leaders have been taken down, the people from Orania, they came and took them, without making a fuss, they’re now in Orania”. Without making a fuss! Do you think we’re deaf? Every time someone even thinks “Tshwane”, there’s legalese flying around so fast you’d think you were back in the 1980’s Transvaal. Or Ventersdorp, 2010.
Contrast this with AfriForum’s argument. Its advocate Martin Brassey asked, as gently as he could, what Serote’s response would be if white right-wingers got together “and to stir themselves up sang a song suggesting black people should be killed or shot”. When he replied that he thought “we have an adequate judiciary in this country, they would have to deal with it”. Brassey accepted that pretty quickly and moved on. It was two gentlemen speaking to each other politely about an issue on which both feel deeply.
As a result, the two sides are now perhaps being viewed differently. This could have very real results. On Tuesday Du Plessis said that as a result of the Youth League’s plan to set up a massive screen outside the court so their supporters could watch Malema’s testimony. “I may or may not be in court tomorrow”. The idea being that he would be hugely visible for an entire day, and then have to walk through a group of people who had just watched him. It may be a very serious situation, or it may not.
As so often happens in this country, for every political action there’s a reaction – not necessarily equal nor opposite. Often, if one extreme acts, the other extreme reacts. In this case, Malema sang some songs and there’s been a huge response. For parts of both these sides, it helps them to claim the other side should be feared. Malema is at his political best when he has a white plot to blame. TAU will no doubt get more members through being seen as the organisation that finally “blocks Malema”. But they’re completely, utterly and undeniably wrong. We may have separate histories, but we have become one country. We may still live in different places, but more and more we are reading the same newspapers and websites, listening to the same radio stations and watching the same television. We are sharing our space more and more, in the office, on the sports field, in the class room, even in the law profession and on the Bench. It’s completely wrong to say national reconciliation has failed. The arguments we have now about affirmative action are nothing compared to what happened during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Hell, when was the last time there was an argument about quotas and the Springboks?
This case is about history. But we are moving on from that history, every day and in every way, we are showing that our pasts may be in different places, but our future is very much in one land. DM
Grootes is an EWN reporter.
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