Much has been said and written about former Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe’s recent interview with Business Day, in which he criticised the current African National Congress (ANC) leadership, warned about rising public debt and declared the Tripartite Alliance nonexistent.
There is arguably still value, however, in reflecting further on what he described as the prevailing “gap” between the ideal of a nonracial society and the current political rhetoric and social reality.
In the 22-page transcript of the interview, Motlanthe argues that the strategic goal of nonracialism is not being internalised in the ANC and is, thus, absent from the “consciousness” of many in the party.
He laments, for example, the way black politicians, such as Mmusi Maimane and Lindiwe Mazibuko, have been “derided” as having been “rented” for their decision to align themselves with the Democratic Alliance.
“In the National Assembly, for instance, why would you question the sincerity of any of . . . the other representatives there? You ought to relate to them as people who truly represent whatever views they represent and engage with them,” he argued. The governing party should be seeking to win arguments by “dint of facts” and not merely through having superior numbers in Parliament.
“No South African should feel that they are not quite South Africans”, but he acknowledged that “a lot of them feel that way, and our national discourse is not helping”.
Motlanthe is not alone in agonising over this gap, with a leading political analyst and regular contributor to this magazine writing recently that he is “gravitating quite strongly towards the view that the best we can achieve is peaceful nonreconciliation”.
In the piece, Aubrey Matshiqi points to a “new face of white arrogance” – previously progressive white South Africans, who believe they have “licence to resist transformation”.
“In fact, given this particular dimension of the current state of race relations, I have, since 1994, never been more convinced that South Africa has never been further from the goal of a nonracial society than we are today,” Matshiqi writes.
The arguments of Motlanthe and Matshiqi are arguably two sides of a single coin.
On the one hand, too little is being done by those in the governing party to persuade minorities (through cogent argument rather than votes) of the need to work together on the South African democratic project – a process that requires an ongoing and delicate balance between redress and reconciliation.
On the other, white South Africans are increasingly refusing to acknowledge that the injustices of the past have not been addressed and that this process doesn’t only require time, but also requires a higher level of awareness and sensitivity.
As Motlanthe asserts, it’s the “consciousness that seems to be very low” at this point in time.