Nondelivery, not race, is the barrier to black progress - Businesslive

2 December 2019 - Tragically, perhaps just as Jessie Duarte appears to feel, Ramaphosa’s ANC would be quite happy to see us perish together as fools, compelled by law to look no further than one another’s skin colour and deny ourselves the unity of purpose most citizens know in their bones to be the only credible route to a better future.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has urged South Africans to “embrace each other as equals, and look beyond [our] preconceptions of someone merely by looking at their skin colour”.

Invoking what he called “perhaps our most important [achievement] … our sustained and unwavering commitment to transformation and nonracialism”, he recommended: “Let us move beyond the psychological barrier in the interests of rebuilding this country together.”

Perhaps citizens will cheer this lofty ideal and the fact of the president seeming to provide leadership in the task of achieving it. There might be some doubts, though, whether he really means what he says.

After all, it was only last week that no less a figure in the ANC leadership than deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte, classified as coloured in the government’s racialistic legal categories, rounded on the governing party for being “racist” and having “almost become tribalists in the way we present ourselves”.

Speaking at the Naledi community hall in Soweto, Duarte said: “We have almost become tribalists in the way we present ourselves. We are racist in the ANC because we marginalise people who are not black African people; keep them out of the ANC at all costs. [We] put one or two there as tokens so that we can say mara ja, you know, uJessie apha [is here] representing.’

Duarte could not have been particularly thrilled by DA interim leader John Steenhuisen’s economical riposte: “Why are you surprised when your party has driven nothing but a race-based agenda for the past 25 years? This is always the destination when nonracialism is sacrificed.”

And that sacrifice goes well beyond Duarte’s discomfort at chauvinism, tribalism or racism in the ANC. The problem is that, having spent 25 years aping the essential precepts of the system it was long devoted to overthrowing — in the vain Ramaphosa conviction that this was the key to “[moving] beyond the psychological barrier in the interests of rebuilding this country together” — ANC policy has only guaranteed the perverse tenacity of the barrier itself.

Ramaphosa undoubtedly means well, but when he bemoans “poor adherence to employment equity legislation, and, at worst, outright disregard for the law”, he appears to imagine a society divided against itself, and wilfully squandering the opportunity to succeed.

Much worse, when he points to the “upper echelons of management in private companies [being] still dominated by white men, though they make up just 5% of the economically active population” while “Africans only make up 15% of top management, despite accounting for 79% of the economically active population”, he is shamelessly blaming his white compatriots for his own government’s failures.

Persistent disadvantage — poor schooling, poor housing, poor health care, runaway unemployment, and scant access to property rights — is really what undermines that 79% of the economically active population, and focusing on their skin colour instead of what they really need and deserve is the cruel obstacle they face.

The president concluded his weekly letter to South Africans with an idea that, all these years after it was expressed, ought to be unarguable, a commonplace wisdom we might have expected to see everywhere reflected in policy, especially in a country with a history like ours.

“In the words of Martin Luther King Jnr,” Ramaphosa wrote, “‘We must learn to live together as brothers [and sisters] or perish together as fools.’” 

Tragically, perhaps just as Jessie Duarte appears to feel, Ramaphosa’s ANC would be quite happy to see us perish together as fools, compelled by law to look no further than one another’s skin colour and deny ourselves the unity of purpose most citizens know in their bones to be the only credible route to a better future.

• Morris is head of media at the Institute of Race Relations.

https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/columnists/2019-12-01-michael-morris-nondelivery-not-race-is-the-barrier-to-black-progress/

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