An Open Letter to Mmusi Maimane - Rational Standard

10 October 2019 - I saw you speak once on an unforgettable day. April 7, 2017. I was just one of 30,000 who marched to the Union Buildings to join hands with my compatriots and say Zuma Must Fall!

Dear Mmusi Maimane,

I saw you speak once on an unforgettable day. April 7, 2017. I was just one of 30,000 who marched to the Union Buildings to join hands with my compatriots and say Zuma Must Fall! Having toyi-toyied around the Treasury the previous week with a scant crowd to oppose Zuma’s dismissal of Pravin Gordhan I was stunned by the sudden swell in numbers. It was more than anything I’d seen in our streets and you, sir, were the one. So many of those tens of thousands came to see you and you did not disappoint.

Neither, sadly, did Zuma. Unveiling a plaque on Chris Hani’s grave shortly thereafter, Zuma said “the marches that took place last week demonstrated that racism is real and exists in our country”. The last desperate line of Zuma and his looters was that the Democratic Alliance (DA) wanted him out because he is truly black.

It might have worked, too. Ever since Ranjeni Munusamy called Bulelani Ngcuka “impimpi” in 2003, Zuma and his cronies had only one defence: those opposed to him were either white racists or black pawns thereof. Joining his ticket in 2014, Cyril Ramaphosa campaigned on the line that a vote for the DA (that you belonged to) would be a vote to “bring back apartheid”.

From 2003 until 2017, the “front line” of defence provided by Zuma’s “keepers” was to make fake accusations of racism, and, when he used the line again after that nationwide protest, I thought it might work forever.

But the third #ZumaMustFall march in 2017 turned out to be the charm that broke his protective spell. Someone finally said that playing the race card to defend the indefensible is not only unreasonable, it is a backfire. “If you call us racist, we are proud racists, because we don’t want this man here.”

I can remember the shock. This rallying cry was the most shocking thing I heard and I can still see the hands reaching up and the hairs on those hands reaching up too.

“If not wanting Zuma is racism, then we are racist [cheers]. If not wanting Zuma, you got money from white people, then we received money from white people [more cheers]. We are proud to have received that money from white people, because anyone who finances a fight against corruption, that person is a patriot [applause]. We don’t care whether you are white, Indian, black, we are here to defend the future of our children.” The crowd loved it!

So did the press, which littered the streets with posters – “Proud to be called racist – Malema” – the next day. Again, this was totally shocking.

Julius Malema is probably the most self-serving, bigoted and dangerous person in parliament and yet even he was willing for a moment to put a stop to the Zuma’s-critics-are-racist madness. It is perhaps the one good thing he ever did for our despairing nation.

Admittedly, he left some things to be desired. No decent person can truly be “proud” of being labelled a racist in this country. It is revolting even when the accusation is false. Of course, everyone understood that Malema was speaking ironically to burst an arresting illusion, but still. He authored a quote, “we are proud to be labelled racists”, that could easily be lifted out of context to toxic effect. In an ideal world, no one would ever do that.

Much more significantly, Malema did not walk the talk thereafter. Rather than practise his preaching, he never fails to rebut criticisms of his own leadership by weaving conspiracies of some “white monopoly capital” cabal conniving to oust him because he is black.

Likewise, the African National Congress (ANC) briefly discarded race bait only to pick it up again, and with a vengeance. When Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was defeated at Nasrec, it was precisely at the cost of new policies that aim to divide the country by race, starting with revanchist Expropriation without Compensation.

The upshot? Poor compatriots living on government land have had to wait a little longer for the ANC to vent its hatred at the past before getting back to the deedless living. The economic recovery waiting to happen has been sacrificed to the new dawn of our race gods once more. You may call me a sentimental chap, sir, but this cuts me where it hurts.

If I had a magic wand I would wave it to end this and I think you would, too. But look at what the DA has done, instead of opposing Zuma’s form of political theater – it rehearsed his play on a smaller stage. Patricia De Lille’s leadership was challenged, so she did a Zuma and accused her critics of racism. The damage this did to your party is yet to be publicly fathomed.

Now your leadership is under question. It could be because of the unprecedented electoral slide, or it could be because of the allegations of corruption regarding your house and car. It could be because you let De Lille off the hook, or because you let Phumzille van Damme off the hook, or because you let Luyolo Mphithi off the hook. Or it could be because you are black.

What do you think? What do you really think, sir?

As far as I am concerned, that is the most important question in your political life and everything depends on your answer. I hope you give it publicly.

In May, I voted for Mosiuoa Lekota, not you, so maybe you do not think you owe me an answer. You do not. This whole debate arose indecorously from an irony, like Malema’s, and that too can be an excuse to look away from the mirror today.

But you owe it to yourself to know and let it be known: when Maimane sees his skin does he see a shield from criticism; or are those “champions” that aim to transform your race into their own political armour insulting your character to the very depths of your soul?

Gabriel Crouse, Institute of Race Relations