Open letter to Ramaphosa: The ANC cannot coddle racism
Dear Mr President
I imagine that these must be especially trying times for you as president of our movement and the country, as they are for many of us as members of the African National Congress (ANC) and citizens of this county during COVID-19.
I say this as an apology for imposing an additional burden on you by sending you this letter. I am a person who was classified as coloured by the repressive apartheid regime. Coloureds make up just over six million of the population of South Africa. I am of the race that gave the ANC veterans such as Seaparankoe Mama Sophie De Bruyn; the late trade unionist Alex La Guma, the late Professor Jakes Gerwel, the late “Che Guevara of the Cape flats”, Ashley Kriel; the race that gave the ANC its former deputy secretary general Cde Cheryl Carolus and many other veterans like Cde Trevor Manuel.
This is the race that also gave us the 400m sprint world record holder and Olympic gold medalist Wayde Van Niekerk. This is also the race that gave us other athletes and entertainers in different spheres of society. It's a race that was not good enough to be white during the apartheid years, and a race that is being frowned upon by the current government.
A typical example of this is the Mayor of Matjhabeng local municipality in the Free State, Nkosenjani Speelman, who called members of the society “boesmans who should be skopped and donnered”. This, Cde President, is a clear indication that coloured people are looked at with disdain!
I was born in a small town called Rouxville in the south-eastern part of the mother province of the glorious movement of African people, the oldest liberation movement in the world, the ANC - the Free State.
Cde President, four years after my birth, my maternal grandparents were told to leave their house, number 66a Leeuw Street, Rolelelathunya, and were moved to an area called Uitkoms (I don’t know from where or what, exactly, it came out). This led to my maternal grandfather, Jan Smith (may his soul rest in eternal peace), becoming extremely sick, and he died a mere eight months after that forced removal in August 1978.
President, I am just sketching this background of myself and my grandfather to make you aware of the struggles of coloured communities throughout the length and breadth of this country.
I, as an ANC activist, with my membership in the Brian Bunting branch, ward 97 in the greater Johannesburg region, was extremely excited by your election to the presidency of the ANC in December 2017. It came after some of us were called "clever blacks" and things like that by former leadership.
Now, Cde President, to get to the reason for my long-winded letter to you. On 6 August 2020, the National Appeals Committee of the organisation you lead released its findings against Speelman, the executive mayor of Matjhabeng Municipality in the Free State and regional chairperson of our esteemed organisation in the Lejwelephutswa region in the Free State.
Speelman, (excuse me Cde President, I refuse to call anyone comrade who does anything contradictory to what the ANC taught us and is still teaching us) was found guilty by the provincial disciplinary committee and suspended from the ANC. The appeals committee, under chairperson Cde Nomvula Mokonyane, set aside all the findings of the Free State disciplinary committee and reinstated this guy with immediate effect.
Cde President, this was all done because a fellow called Hendrik Minnie, coordinator of minorities in the Free State, had "forgiven" Speelman for calling coloured people “drunkards" and "boesmans". These comments, Cde President, was seen by the nation in a clip that was played on all media platforms, social and mainstream.
I want to assure you that as a coloured person, I speak for myself and many coloured people in the Free State and throughout the country when I say that Minnie does not speak on our behalf, and the apology that the Speelman character issued is not accepted because it is not sincere. I refuse to be spoken for by a man who claims to be man of the cloth and uses bible verses for dastardly and nefarious means.
I ask myself, the organisation you lead always defines itself as non-racial and non-sexist in character, but someone who is supposed to be a leader in this organisation refers to a section of his community in such derogotive terms and he gets a warning at most? The follow-up then arises, is there a set of rules for this unsavory character called Speelman and a different one for that repulsive woman called Vicki Momberg? Which is better between the two of them?
Cde President, the rights of every South African is enshrined in the Constitution, which is hailed as a model document all over the world. And I dare mention that you, Cde President, are the author of that brilliant document.
Unfortunately, my president, members of our esteemed organisation urinate on that model document and use it as paper that should be thrown in the lavatory. They are hampering efforts of nation building, therefore throwing all efforts by national leadership out of the window.
Cde Mokonyane herself in 2013 - while addressing residents of Bekkersdal in the west of Gauteng as premier of the economic hub - said that the ANC didn’t need the "dirty votes" of those residents. Now, if a member of the ANC's NEC or national working committee can say that, and also find absolutely nothing wrong with what Speelman said to a section of our society that already feels marginalised and antagonised, what does that say about us as ANC members?
Cde President, as a coloured child of the Free State, and member in good standing of the ANC, I took personal offence with what that guy said, and what is more repulsive is that my own organisation sees absolutely nothing wrong with such conduct.
To quote rule 5.2 from the ANC's own constitution in this regard;
(f) Fight against racism, tribal chauvinism, sexism, religious and political intolerance or any other form of discrimination or chauvinism.
(g) Observe discipline, behave honestly and carry out loyally decisions of the majority and decisions of higher bodies.
Now, Cde President, this chap called Speelman clearly violated the constitution of the organisation that put him in such a position of responsibility. And what was his reward for the insults he hurled at the coloured community? GO AND INSULT THEM FURTHER! The message we are sending out is that it is fine to insult any section of society; you will apologise afterwards and be reinstated! We are scoring political own goals at any given time, and we do it with such impunity, that the opposition doesn’t have to lift a finger. The just have to look at us imploding like chaos!
Cde President, I watched you in December 2017, two days after your election as 13th president of the ANC and deputy president of our country at the time, interacting with the Khoisan leaders who were on the lawn of our executive seat, the Union Buildings. I watched you on television, dressed in your "Madiba shirt" addressing those leaders of ours with flair and charisma befitting of a leader of society.
It can’t be correct that we as the ANC claim moral authority and call ourselves the leaders of society, but in turn reward rogue elements who say the most dastardly things about fellow South Africans, and then get rewarded in such a way.
Cde President, we are scandal-ridden as an organisation, we are limping from one problem to the other, we are accused by the masses out there of being thieves and scavengers. President, I am a foot soldier and first in line to defend the ANC. But I am despondent. How do I convince people that indeed the ANC is a vehicle of social change when we are entangled with people like Speelman who calls people "dronkgat boesmans who deserved to be skopped and donnered"? How do I do that?
To say I am disappointed is an understatement, Cde President. But I refuse to say I am "shocked and surprised" - that I will leave to you.
I want to sign off, my leader, by reminding you of what you said to us as a nation in your inaugural State of the Nation Address. You asked us, using the words of the late Bra Hugh Masekela, to "thuma mina" - to send you! Now we are sending you, Cde President, to deal with Speelman. We will hold you to account! We cannot and will not be associated with people who steal from the poor, such as those who have been accused of mishandling money for personal protective equipment during coronavirus, but at the same time we must deal with racism.
Please Cde President, your organisation is breathing through its wound and your silence is not assisting the process!
Once again, I apologise for burdening you during this difficult time.
Deon Leeuw is an ANC member, and the founder and CEO of Benlee Investments. You can follow him on Twitter @deonjleeuw.