Political Notebook | We’ll be dancing to the race tune for...


Political Notebook | We’ll be dancing to the race tune for ages, so learn your steps

MAX DU PREEZ writes about the need for black leadership in politics and broader society, and wonders if Vladimir Putin will still want to visit Johannesburg when he hears about our cholera problem.


STEPHEN SACKUR, host of Hard Talk on the BBC: “You're the wrong leader, Mr Steenhuisen."

John Steenhuisen, DA leader: “Absolutely not, 83% of the party that just elected me would disagree."

This is an issue that will not go away in my lifetime: white leadership in a country where 93% of the people are not white.

This applies not only to elected white politicians but also to the business world and civil society, from which various initiatives are currently emerging to form a coalition and/or national movement to unseat the ANC next year.

It is an uncomfortable, complex and sensitive issue. Non-racialism is, after all, enshrined in the foundational provisions of our constitution.

We can talk about merit and equality before the constitution until we are blue in the face, but the fact remains that there is a historical imperative for white South Africans to step back after 350 years of history and for black (including coloured) leaders to take the lead — and to be given the opportunity to do so.

This is already happening to some extent in the business world, where Business Leadership SA and Business Unity SA are led by black individuals, although most businessmen and women are still white.

This does not mean white South Africans now become second-class citizens, and it should never mean that.

It's just that the era of the white saviours is now finally behind us.

The peculiarity of white politicians taking the lead in getting rid of the predominantly black ANC in next year's election is also noted elsewhere. Like in Washington, where Steenhuisen, senior (white) DA parliamentarian Dion George and chief whip Siviwe Gwarube recently met Congress members and opinion leaders. Many eyebrows have apparently been raised.

The Hard Talk host emphasised it repeatedly in his conversation with Steenhuisen. Sackur said most black South Africans still see the DA as fundamentally a white party, and this is underscored by the fact that 62% of DA MPs are white while only 7% of the population is white.

“This is a structural problem for you, isn't it?" Sackur asked. Steenhuisen strongly disagreed and said his caucus is the most diverse  in parliament. Then he added: “People are looking beyond race towards competence and the ability to get things done."

Sackur referred to Mpho Phalatse, who ran against Steenhuisen in the leadership election. “She is a black woman, you are a white man. Does it never enter your head that perhaps your party could have greater appeal if somebody like Mpho Phalatse was leading the DA?"

“We've been down that road before," Steenhuisen replied, referring to his predecessor, Mmusi Maimane, “which shows that race doesn't matter. What matters is the ability to make a compelling argument."

“Race doesn't matter." Straight out of the Helen Zille playbook.

John Steenhuisen talking to the BBC's Stephen Sackur.
John Steenhuisen talking to the BBC's Stephen Sackur.
Image: BBC

It matters that the Springbok rugby captain, Siya Kolisi, and the Proteas cricket captain, Temba Bavuma, are black. It mattered that Barack Obama was America's first black president. And unfortunately, it mattered that André de Ruyter is white.

Even the leader of the conservative, primarily white Afrikaans Freedom Front Plus, Pieter Groenewald, commented on the plans for a “moonshot pact" of opposition parties, saying it cannot be led by a white politician.

ActionSA has a strong white support base. Everyone is happy that Herman Mashaba is the leader. He has asked experienced white politicians such as Michael Beaumont and Athol Trollip to support him.

Most white South Africans do not have a problem with black leadership in principle. Unfortunately, the reverse is not (yet) true. The past did not suddenly disappear like mist before the morning sun.

Geordin Hill-Lewis, Chris Pappas and Cilliers Brink are undoubtedly capable mayors, and Alan Winde is probably the most capable premier. South Africa cannot afford not to utilise such talent, but it is important that these kinds of leaders ensure that the majority of black people accept that they also serve their interests. Hill-Lewis and Pappas, in particular, are doing this quite well.

This race issue is a tune South Africans will have to dance to for a long time, and we will have to know our steps.

It sometimes pushes white vulnerability to the extreme, especially because opportunists like the EFF use race as their foremost bait.

White South Africans should not behave in a way that strengthens these populists' anger.

Stay at home, Vlad

Will Naledi Pandor, our minister of international relations, once again grovel to her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, or will she tell him straight: don't send your president to the Brics summit in Johannesburg in August?

These two, with the foreign ministers of the other three Brics countries, met in Cape Town yesterday and today to discuss the upcoming summit and the expansion of Brics to other countries.

The foreign ministers of Iran, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kazakhstan, the DRC, Comoros, Argentina, Bangladesh and Egypt are virtually participating in the summit as potential future members.

(If everyone eventually joins, it would mean that the bloc of 15 would include only seven actual democracies.)

Russia is causing South Africa to sweat over the International Criminal Court's arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin if he sets foot on our soil. Perhaps Moscow hopes it will be a middle finger to the West if Putin is received here as a hero instead of being arrested.

Two things are clear.

First, it is evident that the South African Police Service cannot arrest the Russian head of state in Johannesburg. It is physically and politically not feasible.

But it is also clear that the government is legally obliged to arrest him. It is a law of our parliament and will surely be supported by a court decision, perhaps by that time a ruling of the constitutional court.

The last president who defied the constitutional court was summarily sent to prison: Jacob Zuma.

Say what you want about Cyril Ramaphosa but he is not the kind of leader who wants to tear up the constitution and throw it out the window. Or sit in a cell.

He has now appointed his deputy, Paul Mashatile, to resolve this mess.

The ICC does not seem inclined to amend its arrest warrant or make an exception. After all, it concerns charges of war crimes.

The most obvious solution is for Putin to participate virtually in the summit — he is, in any case, completely paranoid about his security. (Perhaps someone should tell him he might contract cholera here, as he seems to be quite a germophobe.)

I hope Pandor and Mashatile made it clear to Lavrov. We have enough problems in South Africa and we cannot afford this drama.

Good grief, and meanwhile, Ramaphosa has delegated four of his senior ministers to grovel to the G7 countries and explain Pretoria's romance with Moscow.

And all this while a judge spends six weeks searching for the cargo documents of the Lady R freighter that loaded or unloaded unknown items in Simon's Town in December.

Who needs Real Housewives of the Winelands when you have the South African government?


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