This year started with a hailstorm of racism. Penny Sparrow opened the door on the very real racism which stills runs deep in white South Africa. It is closet racism. Closet in that it is not celebrated, openly stated or championed by white people. But the sad truth is that in 2016 apartheid still colours the thinking of many white, coloured and black South Africans.
That legacy of separation and a real fear of losing identity has been reflected in how the majority of white South Africans have voted since 1994. In 1994 white South Africa voted for the NP and by 2009 they had moved their votes to the DA. This year, English speaking and Afrikaans speaking South Africans still voted in large numbers for the DA, but this time they voted for a party that is led by a black man, and in most places for mayors who are not white.
The metros which were under real contention this year highlight the fact that despite the ongoing closet racism of white and coloured South Africans, and the open call to black racism by the ANC and EFF during this campaign, the country is slowly finding its way past race.
In Nelson Mandela Bay, Athol Trollip, a fifty+ white man, is the new mayor. And that is because enough black voters looked past “colour” and “old loyalties” and voted for him. Even if it was a vote against the ANC it was still a vote where colour mattered less than delivery and policy.
In Tshwane, after the ANC’s chaotic candidate selection, the DA showed extraordinary growth. In the urban heartland of Afrikanerdom, Solly Msimanga is the the next mayor, in large part because of Afrikaans support. The nation that was the backbone of apartheid left that legacy behind politically.
In Johannesburg, the race is neck and neck as to whether Herman Mashaba (DA) or Parks Tau (ANC) will be the mayor of whatever coalition is formed. If it is Mashaba it will be because significant numbers of voters of every colour, race and demographic voted for the DA, which has survived being labelled as an English white party, then a white party, then a coloured and white party. Maybe the collaboration of voters of all colours is a reflection of how the party has carefully and deliberately grown its “appeal”, but nevertheless the fact that voters of all races and beliefs have found common ground is a new phenomenon in South African politics.
This is a turning point in the country. White South Africa – which politically has kept itself separate – voted for a black leader, and in many places a black mayor. Black and coloured South Africans in their millions voted together for the “sell-out”, “black-for-rent”, “white” party – often for a coloured or white mayor.
And whatever happens now, this deep shift must be cause for celebration. Politics is as much about changing hearts as well as minds, and as our democracy enters its adulthood is seems that emotionally we may be growing up.
Hopefully, our Constitution, that extraordinary document which is the shining beacon on the hill, is filtering out the historic hatred and fear of our past.
If that is so then we are inching towards the trust and common ground between the fractured groups in our country to a place where we can paint the vision that Bishop Tutu channelled when he labelled us “the rainbow nation”. Where people and policies matter more than the past and prejudice.
And how heartening if this is the start of a cleansing stream that will become a river that tumbles and churns us together through the rapids of imbalance, inequality and injustice into the ocean of deep human commonalities. DM