I was again reminded recently of the lengths some will go to mobilise South Africans on the basis of race. The incident took place at an otherwise excellent debate by the Black Management Forum on the future of Gauteng.
Let me say upfront that the BMF is an important institution for open debate and advocacy in democratic South Africa. It is crucial to the push for a professionalised, equitable civil service and private sector.
And I want to thank them for the warm reception to the ideas I presented about entrepreneurs leading job creation in Gauteng, cutting corruption out of government, urban land reform and ensuring that our kids get a quality education to become digital citizens in an inclusive economy.
My issue here is with a small group of individuals led by Jimmy Manyi who, like they have many times in the past, decided to ignore these ideas and instead used the debate to stage a crude and coordinated attack on me based solely on the issue of race.
These are the people who say that when blacks join DA they are just herded like unthinking individuals. These are the people who say that when black leaders are duly elected in the DA “it just can’t be”.
When Mmusi Maimane runs for Premier in Gauteng as a young, independent and self-reliant black man these are the people who insult my being by calling me a garden boy.
I will repeat here what I told those ambushers at the BMF debate – that, sir, is racist. In fact their line of attack is a form of crude racism and an insult to the humanity of every free-thinking South African trying to make their way through life on their own ideas and abilities.
What I learnt at the Voortrekker monument was that out of the history of a people who showed great ingenuity in their own struggles, can come the capacity for oppression.
Now in democratic times we are led primarily by a generation of people with struggle credentials against the oppression we suffered under Apartheid.
But sometimes I wonder whether some from the struggle credentials generation have the same values as the new generation that is emerging, the Mandela generation?
This new generation takes its cue from Tata Madiba’s burning desire for freedom and justice for black South Africans, but also his beliefs in the rights of individuals and commitment to a transformed, reconciled society.
In fact, as democracies mature, the average age of politicians decreases, and skills in government increase.
I believe that what South Africa needs is for society’s leadership to reflect more of this new emerging generation – a generation of young South Africans with the skills and outlook that are capable of not only transforming our broken society, but also leading the way in reconciling it.
The type of racial mobilisation so favoured by Manyi and others is aimed at dictating to people who they should be and who they should associate with. The ANC and their proxies want to tell us if you are black you must belong to this party, if you are white you must belong to that party and so on.
That’s what the Apartheid government did – they dictated to who us who we were in life. They told my parents because you are black, you will live here, you will be poorly educated to be labourers and your life prospects will be limited according to your place in society.
In a nutshell, the Apartheid government robbed us of the ability to self-identify. I had a friend called Pieter McCarthy. As a coloured man going to collect his dompas, the authorities refused to accept that his surname could be “McCarthy” with a “C”. Instead, they told him, “you will be McCarthy with a “K” because that is what you are.
There are many of us who lived most of our lives under this evil system of social engineering. But equally, there are many of us who are part of a new generation. Ours is a generation with the beautiful gift of self-identification.
We have a Constitution that protects the rights of individuals. That doesn’t mean we live in a society without race. In fact if you can’t see that I am black, you just plain don’t see me.
But what you cannot do is tell me that because I am black I should think and behave in a certain way that is in line with your idea of what black should be.
Individuals are most definitely shaped by the communities we come from, that we can all accept. But equally, we must never forget that communities are also made up of individuals.
What really empowers people is not a crude obsession with race but a genuine commitment to opportunities for all and a market-led economy that creates jobs.
There is a new generation emerging in South Africa, a generation that respects and supports the ideas of Tata Nelson Mandela and wants to make them a reality to the benefit of all citizens.
At the end of the day this about our future, and that of our children – no one else. This is the generation that must lead us not just in government, but in the economy and civil society as well.
Only then will we get past the scars and material legacy of exclusion that continues to imprison us to life outcomes based on race. DM
"I know of a cure for everything: salt water...in one way or the other. Sweat or tears or the salt sea." ~ Karen Blixen