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Race and political party electioneering discourse

Oct 12, 2021

By Staff Writer

The DA was forced to make a U-turn last week and remove controversial posters that they put up in Phoenix, North of Durban, stating, “the ANC called you racist, the DA calls you a hero.” The party called it a misinterpretation; however, the racial undertones could not be obscured, especially in a context wherein over 30 people were killed in Phoenix violence in July.

South Africa’s past, in which people were categorised and afforded opportunities based on race, makes this especially contentious. This is specifically in a context wherein the majority of the population still live under the poverty line. Economic power is still largely racially distributed, with ‘Africans’ remaining on the lower end of most indicators, including economic strength, service provision, and schooling and university opportunities.

Radio Islam International spoke to the Executive Director of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, Neeshan Balton and political scientist Roland Henwood. Both reiterated and concurred on the racial undertone of the poster, arguing that this was a country-wide problem, which stretched across all political parties. “It was a racially motivated action trying to appeal to one section of the community in Phoenix, misrepresenting, I think, all that had taken place in July.”

Significantly, Phoenix is a desegregated area, with over 30% of its population being ‘African’. Mr Balton argues that these posters sought to portray all ‘Indians’ as heroes and all ‘Africans’ as disorderly in an attempt to win the ‘Indian’ vote.

Mr Henwood revived the issue, arguing that this was a DA problem and a South African political party problem. Mr Henwood, while noting the DA’s past inability to deal with race, argued that both the EFF and ANC have also been justifiably accused of race bating, especially before elections,” It’s a South African problem. It is especially a problem of the political leadership in South Africa. I’m getting to be much less diplomatic and say that our leaders are hypocrites, and they are basically this honest… We need to, across the board, condemn and reject the issue of race and the way in which it is portrayed in our faulty political processes.”

Mr Henwood also noted the fact that this politicising means that the investigation in Phoenix is already contaminated.

Both Mr Henwood and Mr Balton argued that race and race bating did not only begin with the EFF but that it was always in play, especially in a context where much of the current EFF leadership were former ANC youth league members. No race has escaped this bating, with some ANC candidates demonising ‘Coloureds’, the DA’s race issue against ‘Indians’ and the current’s EFF’s complaints of ‘Indian’ influence. Even Action SA, it was argued, espoused identity and race-based politics in its criticisms of foreigners and refugees in the country.

Further, it was significantly noted that although many claims to support ‘Africans’ are made in political manifestos and discussions, services are still provided mainly on the apartheid hierarchical scale, with potholes and educational facilities being better in ‘white’ areas; when compared to those of ‘Africans.’

Both also noted the unpopularity of narrow race-based politics in South Africa, citing Servais, who argued that political parties’ discourse did not correctly represent lived experiences. However, it was noted that race and identity-based politics were rising globally and that South Africa has a specific historical past. Mr Balton stated that this might change in the future significantly if the situation for the majority does not change.

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