Allow me to be the first to congratulate President Sentletse Diakanyo on his landslide election victory, the second in an unbroken line of populist Presidents of the Republic of South Africa. Well done, sir, well done.
President Sentletse’s election victory today is even more impressive when one reflects on the treacherous path he took to the cushiest seat at the Union Buildings. He battled a fierce and hostile media, courts, intellectuals and outraged white, Indian and Chinese people to become our first citizen. He even battled against leaders from other countries in Africa in the famous “Most of You Aren’t Really Africans” debate at the 2012 African Union summit and reasserted South Africa’s position as African Country Most Full of Shit.
The massive smelly waves of what was later known as the Spillage (the overflowing sewage pit metaphor was chosen merely because the tsunami metaphor had already been taken by President Sentletse’s predecessor, Jacob) upon which the President surfed his way to power began when the previously unknown Sentletse wrote a blog post entitled “We are not all Africans, black people are!” in which he refuted, once and for all, the insidious idea that people of all ethnicities and backgrounds could call themselves Africans. With the exquisite use of exclamation marks and quotations from Henry Ford, he bravely fought back against white liberals and their treasonous black African [Censorship Board directive: calling Africans “black” is counter-revolutionary. Refrain from sullying our pure African image in this way. Please refer to the Racial and Ethnic Designations Document] apologists who had tried to appropriate the designation “African” for themselves.
During an interview in late 2011, Sentletse said that the idea of using the fragile self-esteem of South Africans for his campaign to become a national figure had come to him when he observed his bitter rival, the president of the ANC Youth League Julius Malema (Sentletse and Julius later ran against each other for ANC president in what is widely considered the most populist election race ever) using inflammatory and anticolonialist rhetoric, calculating on the over-reaction of the White Imperialist Lobby to make himself a national figure of controversy and thus heir to the presidential throne.
“With liberals, it is going to be a lot more difficult,” Sentletse said in a 2011 interview. “Mostly because they are so apathetic. The more pro-active ones immediately packed for Perth when it became clear that there would soon be no country for non-Africans. Those who stayed agreed to call themselves Honorary Africans of European Descent.”
Asked why he was so keen to guard the name “African” from non-Africans, Sentletse said it was human nature to want to judge, exclude and divide people. “It is the way of things. Besides, we want to ensure that our children never forget what happened during the apartheid years by insisting on keeping and applying the labels used by the apartheid government to discriminate against non-whites,” he said.
Sentletse has repeatedly stated over the last three years that he sees nothing remotely ironic about his position.
Soon after the blog post from which the Spillage erupted was published, a powerful lobby group which called itself Friends of Sentletse (no non-Africans permitted) was formed to protect the great Sentletse from the media, which had almost immediately begun to attack him for his enlightened views. The Friends of Sentletse all confirmed that they looked forward to ministerial positions and massively expensive government tenders once their man had been installed at the top of the government. They also drafted a resolution (which later became the Racial and Ethnic Designations Document) in which they gave themselves the power to bestow and withhold the status of “African”. The document subsequently became a matter of great controversy when several representatives from African Union member countries symbolically burned it after they had had a 2012 meeting with Sentletse. The President of Malawi later said, “South Africans are now taking the piss. How dare they hijack the word ‘African’ for themselves when they so willingly exhibit xenophobic tendencies against other Africans whenever they feel a bout of boredom coming on?”
Demonstrations against the African Union organised by the Friends of Sentletse were diverted towards Pritchard Street in Johannesburg when the multiracial We Are All Africans organisation submitted papers to the South Gauteng high court that called the Racial and Ethnic Designations Document “a betrayal of the struggle and the Constitution”. WAAA spokesperson Emma Smythe-Bowes said the organisation was calling for the courts to declare the document unconstitutional. When asked why the fight over the term “African” was so important to her organisation, Smythe-Bowes said, “If we don’t get to call ourselves African, then what on earth do we call ourselves? There’s no continent or country called White, you know.”
The court action brought by WAAA was summarily dismissed by the high court and finally appeared before the Constitutional Court earlier this year, months before the 2013 elections which saw the Spillage finally placing Sentletse in the presidency. Speaking for the majority, Judge Thandi Zungu threw the case out, telling all parties involved to “grow up”. In a strange turn of events, both Sentletse and the WAAA declared victory after the ruling. Of course, only Sentletse had the Spillage wave of populist support to ensure political victory.
President Sentletse made a speech on the steps of Parliament yesterday, declaring he intended to use his 70% parliamentary majority to modify clauses in the Constitution that prevented discrimination on the basis of colour or race. “Clearly the Constitution is no longer aligned with the wishes of the people,” he said.
The convenor of the Friends of Sentletse, Samora Castro Afrika (who is now rumoured to have a R9 billion telecommunications tender from the government) said they wouldn’t stop at changing the Constitution. “If only black people can be Africans, it naturally follows that only Africans can have any claim to African land. We will not rest until it is only Africans who are allowed into African malls, African gyms and African suburban swimming pools. Aluta continua.”
So, congratulations again, President Sentletse. Your wise and effective leadership has finally laid to rest the ghost of our un-African past. Long may you continue to define us. DM
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Sipho Hlongwane is a writer and columnist for Daily Maverick. His other work interests also include motoring, music and technology, for which he has some awards. In a previous life, he drove forklift trucks, hosted radio shows, waited tables, and was once bitten by a large monitor lizard on his ankle. It hurt a lot. Arsenal Football Club is his only permanent obsession. He appears in these pages as a political correspondent.
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