On 25 December 2022, while most South Africans celebrated Christmas, news broke of a racial incident at the Maselspoort Resort and Conference Centre involving an attack by several white men on two teenage boys, Kgokong Nakedi (18) and his 15-year-old cousin.
In video footage of the incident, the men were seen trying to block the Nakedi boys from entering the resort pool. When the teenagers nevertheless gained entry, the men hit, throttled and pushed them under the water in the swimming pool.
There is absolutely no place for this type of racist behaviour in a society based on human dignity, equality, freedom and non-racialism. As aptly put by Brian Nakedi, father of 18-year-old Kgokong, this attack undermined “the non-racial spirit of ubuntu that we are all trying to achieve in our country”.
The vast majority of South Africans of all races were outraged by the incident and were pleased that local law enforcement moved swiftly to arrest and charge the men. Now, the law must take its course.
President Ramaphosa also made much of the incident when he delivered the ANC’s 111th anniversary statement in Mangaung on 8 January. He invited the boys to join him at the event and told them that they must “stay strong and not be afraid of white people”. “They no longer have power, their project of apartheid is over,” he continued. In his prepared statement, he went on to say that “Racism is rearing its ugly head in our national life and threatening the foundations of our constitutional democracy, fuelling anger and frustration that can result in retaliatory violence.”
The President created the impression that racism was on the rise and that the Maselspoort incident, somehow or other, reflected the views of white people – rather than aberrant individuals; that it was the latest episode in the ANC’s struggle against apartheid.
However, a recent report by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) reveals that there has been no discernible increase in complaints of racism in recent years. In 2020/21 there were 464 such complaints (with no indication of who had made them) compared with 486, 496, 509 and 511 in the four preceding years. According to a survey by the Institute of Race Relations in 2020, 41.7% of South Africans believed that race relations had improved since 1994, 26.4% thought they had stayed the same and 25.8% thought they had deteriorated. Only 3.3% of all South Africans viewed racism as the country’s most serious problem – placing it in 14th place on their list of national problems.
Without derogating from the seriousness of the Maselspoort incident, what causes great concern is the double standard that is applied to complaints of racist speech or actions perpetrated by South Africans from different communities. It was quite appropriate for President Ramaphosa to condemn the Maselspoort incident. What was unacceptable, was for the guardian of a constitution based on the foundational value of non-racialism, to intimate that “white people” – as a collective – think and act the way that the men in this incident did, and to add that – as a group – “their time has passed” – suggesting that the ability of white South Africans to contribute meaningfully to society is over.
Within the context of the concern expressed by President Ramaphosa over racism and its ability “to threaten the foundations of our constitutional democracy”, we must ask why neither he nor the government nor the ANC appears to have condemned the statement made by Julius Malema at an EFF rally in the Western Cape on 16 October 2022. In the statement, Malema called on his supporters to “attend to” an identifiable white man and harangued them to “never be scared to kill” as “a revolution demands that at some point there must be killing”. At the same meeting, posters were displayed proclaiming that the “honeymoon is over for white people in South Africa” and that “a revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate.”
The SAHRC found, on 9 November, that certain parts of Malema’s speech and some of the posters/banners displayed at the event “prima facie, individually and collectively, constitute incitement of violence, hate speech and possibly other transgressions of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, 4 of 2000”. It gave Malema and the EFF ten days to retract and apologise for their unlawful statements and to “desist from further promotion of hatred and violence.” If they failed to do so, the Commission would “proceed to the Equality Court for appropriate interim interdictory relief”.
Although Malema flatly refused to retract the statement or to apologise, three months later there is as yet no indication that the SAHRC has approached the Equality Court.
It is difficult to imagine a more serious manifestation of racism “raising its ugly head” than Malema’s statement. He is, after all, the leader of the third largest political party in South Africa, with the proven ability to stir up incendiary emotions among tens of thousands of his followers. He was clearly proclaiming the need for his followers to kill people based on their race. The President must, in terms of his oath of office – in which he swore to “protect and promote the rights of all South Africans” – condemn unambiguously and act decisively against, the blatant, provocative and undisguised racist threats uttered by Julius Malema.
If he does not do so, there is a very disturbing possibility that racism might rapidly shoot up the list of the most serious problems experienced by South Africans – something that South Africa simply cannot afford.