The Race card: All that the ANC has left – Ivo Vegter - Biznews

Fikile Mbalula, unable to answer criticism of the ANC, is reduced to denouncing its critics as racists and apartheid apologists.

Fikile Mbalula, when faced with criticism of the ANC, resorts to labelling its critics as racists and apartheid apologists. Fani Titi, CEO of Investec, voiced his concerns about South Africa’s governance at a business conference. He emphasised the need for a better government, younger leaders, and private sector investment to combat rising unemployment. Similar sentiments are shared by former government officials and ANC members. Mbalula’s response, however, was to attack Titi and others, using baseless accusations of being apartheid apologists as a diversion from the ANC’s failures.

Ivo Vegter

Fikile Mbalula, unable to answer criticism of the ANC, is reduced to denouncing its critics as racists and apartheid apologists.

Fani Titi, the chief executive officer of Investec, a home-grown, but global, investment bank, is not pleased with the governing party of South Africa. 

In a headline-making speech at the Gordon Institute of Business Science in Johannesburg, he said: ‘You have to have a half-decent government and I don’t think at the moment we are anywhere close.’

This is not a controversial view, but it is rarely stated so boldly and clearly by a senior business leader. ‘If you are not a little scared about the country, there’s something wrong with you’, he said, ‘because the trajectory is not good at all. We are governed by guys in their late 60s and some in their 70s with no idea about how the world works’.

Titi believes that it is now important to vote out the country’s ‘useless’ politicians, and replace them with younger leaders with fresh ideas on how to create an environment that favours private sector investment and allows the business sector to begin to reverse the unemployment trend.

Failing to do so, he warns, would result inthe country’s deterioration into a Zimbabwe situation, where the government and economy do not work for those who aren’t within the ruling party’s patronage network.

‘Heading for disaster’
His view is shared by former Statistician-General, Pali Lehohla, who, in a discussion on state-owned enterprises told the SABC that South Africa is ‘heading for disaster’, and ‘there’s no end in sight’. 

‘What it takes to run the [National Development Plan], what it takes to run the [state-owned enterprises], what it takes to deal with poverty, is far from what is expected and what is the practice in countries that are serious about development’, he said. ‘Ours is a joke, unfortunately’.

And later: ‘We can’t talk about leadership. We have people in the position of leadership that are very weak… it is a misnomer to call what we have leadership’.

Last year, former president Thabo Mbeki himself made headlines when, at the funeral of ANC stalwart Jessie Duarte, he tore into the ANC.

‘There is no national strategy to address the challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality. Doesn’t exist.’

He said that there was no sign of the party’s renewal project, which President Ramaphosa announced upon taking office in 2018, nor was there any sign of the renewed social compact which he had promised to deliver within the first 100 days of his term. He railed against those who joined the movement for self-enrichment, and blamed corruption at all levels of government, down to failing municipalities, on ANC leaders. 

ANC members, Mbeki said, did not know what the party had become, and worried about its future. 

‘Apologists of apartheid’
So Titi’s view is not unique or particularly unusual, even among former government officials and elders of the ANC. 

This did not give the ANC’s secretary-general, Fikile Mbalula, pause, however. From the podium at the party’s recent review of its 2019 election manifesto, he called out Titi, saying, ‘This man would have never been CEO if it wasn’t for the ANC’s policy of black economic empowerment’.

He accused Titi of being at Investec, ‘pleasing his masters, saying our government must go’.

‘We must tell him’, Mblalula thundered, ‘the ANC is not about to leave power. … We seek no apology (sic) from apologists of apartheid like Fani Titi’.

He added: ‘Yes, this revolution has committed mistakes. But we have admitted to those, and we are turning the corner, and we have confronted those mistakes head-on, and we are on track to overcome them.’

That last bit is, of course, pure fantasy. Nothing has changed. On the contrary, things have gotten worse.

But what a vicious smear that was, aimed at a highly successful black man, to falsely accuse him of being an apologist for apartheid when nothing in his record suggests this to be true.

I have never met Fani Titi, but by all accounts, he is a great entrepreneur and businessman who earned his qualifications and his success entirely on merit, and not because he was favoured by ANC policies. 

What presumption, then, that Mbalula implies he should be not only grateful to the ANC for liberating South Africa from apartheid, without which he probably wouldn’t have enjoyed the success he does, but must also be forever loyal to the ANC, instead of saying publicly that it is no longer fit to govern.

‘Racist dogma’
I had the dubious honour of being on the receiving end of Mbalula’s vitriol myself. In response to my recent column in which I berated Cyril Rampahosa for trying to cloak himself and the ANC in the glory of the Springbok’s Rugby World Cup success, Mbalula made me the villain of his own crass attempt to take credit for the victory.

Almost everything he said about me was false, however, starting with my name, which is not, and has never been, ‘Igo’.

Daily Maverick, which has long opened its ‘Opinionista’ platform to politicians, republished Mbalula’s self-aggrandising proclamation. It had the good grace to correct the error in my name, but left all the other lies (and frankly, defamation) intact, which, given my long association with that publication, I find a bit sad.

Contrary to Mbalula’s claim, I never ‘[sang] praises for the DA’s John Steenhuisen’, as a cursory examination of my World Cup column would reveal.

I do not ‘continue to subscribe to the racist dogma that perceives black people as subhuman who are not worthy of respect’.

In fact, I never did subscribe to such a dogma. 

I routinely challenge racists, in the comments on my column, in my social media feeds, and in person. I have written against racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination since I first lifted a pen in public discourse.

The principles of classical liberalism which I advocate stress non-racialism and the equal rights of all people.

The column Mbalula took issue with brimmed with respect for Siya Kolisi, which might have suggested to an astute reader that my disrespect for Cyril Ramaphosa is not based on the colour of his skin, but on some other factor, such as, say, his track record as President of the country. 

‘The South Africa of yesteryear that Vegter yearns for will never come to pass again’, Mbalula writes, not knowing the first thing about me. ‘It is a relic that has been relegated to the rubbish bin of history. The sooner he accepts that reality, the sooner he will be able to make peace with a democracy that thrives under majority rule.’

If Mbalula really wants to know who I am, perhaps he should take the time to read this very personal essay I wrote ten years ago, on the occasion of the death of Nelson Mandela.

If he does, he will discover that I am no racist, and that I have always hated apartheid. He will discover that I not only accepted democracy, but celebrated it, a very long time ago.

But he won’t. Because without being able to smear me as an unreconstructed racist, he would have to address the litany of complaints I raised: ‘…the corruption, the criminal neglect, the poverty, the inflation, the mismanagement, the lack of service delivery, the non-payment of social grants, the disintegration of infrastructure, the rampant crime, the blackouts, the undrinkable water, and the sheer despair of living in a country that is falling apart under the rule of the ANC which Ramaphosa leads’.

He would have to answer Siya Kolisi, on why ‘[t]here is so much that is wrong in our country’, and why ‘[o]ur country goes through such a lot’.

And Mbalula cannot do that. 

Race card
So he, like the rest of the ANC, is reduced to playing the race card. He has to appeal to crude racial identity politics, in the hope that enough South Africans will be blinded to the ANC’s obvious failures by their racial hatred.

He has to denounce black critics like Fani Titi as Uncle Toms, as stooges for ‘white monopoly capitalism’, as ungrateful traitors who owe the ANC undying loyalty for what it achieved several decades ago.

He has to stoke division. 

The ANC has no record to point to and say, ‘this is what we achieved’. They cling to some progress indicators from the census, in the hope that it will be enough, but they know it won’t be. So they have to paint their political enemies as evil, even if that means spreading blatant lies about them in the national press.

I feel for Mbalula. It must be awful to have to defend the ANC’s misrule, because beyond personal insults and smears, his party has nothing to offer.

Ivo Vegter is a freelance journalist, columnist and speaker who loves debunking myths and misconceptions.

This article was first published on the Daily Friend.