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YONELA DIKO: Xiaomei Havard and the enduring challenges of pluralism

OPINION

Many people have said that anger has become the defining emotion of social media, which people put on high-mindedly as a "finger-pointing badge of honour". People on social media are angry at everything; politicians, celebrities, companies, one another; it has become difficult to truly measure how people genuinely feel outside the righteous high of this anger contest. The daily trends and sentiments therefore may not tell us a complete story but they do drive narratives and influence decisions.

The anger at the deployment of Xiaomei Havard by the ANC into the South African Parliament is one such anger-inducing incident that brought out raw emotions on social media. The anger, however, was not only on Twitter; people were sending messages soliciting responses and reaction on this deployment with underlying bemusement. Debates were flowing on Whatsapp groups with indignation and unoriginality.

Inequality

Black peoples anger at the deployment of Havard can at least be understood within the context of hardened hearts over time by enduring inequality, lack of sufficient opportunities and the historical exclusion. Black people have been passed over from opportunities in corporate spaces, cultural spaces, and now in the only space they can truly claim; in government.

Even some white people were angry however, and here it's not unreasonable to attribute their anger to the general white anxiety about the rise of Chinese dominance and the inevitable end to white global domination.

It cannot, however, be denied that the apprehension about Chinese people is also born out of what can be described as a soft global domination project by the Chinese, an imperialistic project of sort without guns and soldiers but with Chinese presence in countries and the splurging of the yuan.

China is entering countries, lending huge sums of money, owning prime properties, building shopping centres and positioning their communities well in these new countries.

Poor countries have seen this, from the Portuguese, Spanish, and English, and Chinese people now have become undisputed parts of these counties and in control of the economic lives and poor black people have been outside looking in and are justified to be suspicious and apprehensive. Africans have welcomed foreigners before and have paid a high price for it and do so still. We cannot be oppressed twice.

Still, the future of the globe bends towards multiracial and multilingual nations and this is true almost everywhere in the world so no one, including Chinese, can be denied their place in the integrating and converging world.

ANC and a progressive agenda

The tough and difficult road by ANC towards a strategic perspective on non-racialism and non-tribalism was born out of a long awakening that members of other races could tremble with indignation at the injustices against black people and make personal sacrifices for their liberation, that the struggle could be passed on in some white families like a family jewel, even to pay the ultimate price.

Over time, old suspicions and stereotypes were broken, genuine friendships were formed, people like Joe Slovo and Ronnie Kasrils were as geared and hunted as Chris Hani. This finally led to ANC's Morogoro conference in 1969 to include other races in the broad alliance to fight for the freedom of Africans. Such strategic perspectives have given the ANC an enduring crossover appeal and legitimacy up and down the social spectrum for over half a century.

It is this experience, forged over many years and tested with occasional strain and difficult debates, that today people like Xiaomei Havard can become members of the ANC and even be nominated in their representatives national list.

The ANC, however, also had to pay the price for this stance. In November 1958, then-Transvaal provincial congress of the ANC even took an extraordinary step of not allowing the African nationalists who hated an open and integrated ANC into the congress. These were ANC African nationalist purists, who refused the reality around them that the province and the country was changing, the face of the struggle was broadening and that the anti-apartheid coalition depended on an open ANC to lead it.

The following year, 1959, these African nationalists, led by the talented Robert Sobukwe, broke away from the ANC and went to other side of town, at Orlando Community Hall in Soweto, Johannesburg, to form the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC).

Gauteng has always been a melting pot where different ethnic and racial groups mingle and interact daily and the ANC in the province, as the lead provincial representative of the people, has naturally been at the coal face of this melting port. Even during apartheid, it is in Johannesburg where most black leaders and comrades; at universities, in social settings, in hideouts; finally experienced the genuine interactions with progressive members of other races and ethnic groups.

ANC and African nationalism

The ANC was formed in 1912 for the development, education and freedom of the black South African. Although the organisation was willing to learn from the development of other European peoples of the world, it was, however, for the exclusive development of an African child. In that sense, the ANC was an African, nationalist organisation. In fact, it did not allow white people to be members for a long time and when it did, they could not be in the party's national executive at least until the Kabwe conference.

The formation of the Communist Party of South Africa (SACP) in 1921, which was predominantly a white, communist organisation, introduced a new element into the struggle. The SACP's interpretation of the struggle in South Africa was that it was predominantly a class struggle. This is a universal interpretation of struggle by communist parties, partly because they have seen different races oppressing people, especially white people persecuting other white people and subjecting them to a lifetime of poverty and struggle.

The ANC, however, interpreted the South African struggle as predominantly a racial struggle. The coincidence occurred where the oppressed class was also the black class, so there were areas of convergence with the ANC. But it was clear that the oppressor did not have a problem arresting, torturing and even killing other white people who chose to side with blacks in the social engineering of subjugating native blacks into a life of slavery for the elevation of the white class.

Over the years, more whites, communists, and fair minded people of all races were making sacrifices for the liberation struggle of black people no different to those black people were making, and it was becoming clear that a solely racialised struggle that saw every white person as an enemy was incorrect.

The ANC decided to formalise its inclusion of other races in 1969, with the formation of the Revolutionary Council, which would lead an ANC-led alliance offensive inside the country. Yusuf Dadoo was vice chairperson and Slovo was also in the council. That's how the alliance of the SACP and South African Council of Trade Unions was born. Of course, Morogoro is also popular for having produced the first strategy and tactics document of the ANC, which characterised the enemy of the struggle as monopoly capital, as opposed to white people as a race, even as the monopoly capital, in the South African context, was white monopoly capital.

Morogoro was also a time where personal relationships were made. Slovo and Tambo became close friends. After the racial barrier was removed, the intellectuals - likely smoking pipes and drinking scotch and talking the new world order - found one another and lifetime friendships were born.

Even after Morogoro, when the alliance with other partners who were dedicated to the struggle, another group of black ANC leaders rose up in protest. They were called the Gang of Eight. They were also challenging this so called white influence in the ANC, and after hard engagements, the group was ultimately cut off.

The flare up of raw emotions against Havard's deployment follows past flare ups as our plurastic nation has been integrating and converging on common interests, with remaining historical divergent areas unresolved.

Rise of nationalism

In many ways, these racial flare ups are not only a South African phenomenon. We have seen many parts of the country electing leaders who are prioritising their majority nationalities over and against minorities, largely foreign, within their countries. Some people have said we are experiencing a rise in nationalism again, after many expects had declared an end to nationalism and nation states. The rise of racist, xenophobic and chauvinist nationalists like former US president Donald Trump, anti-immigration Brexit supporters, and nationalist parties in Germany, France and Austria in 2017 and 2018 has been seen as signalling a rise in nationalism once more.

Of course, the world continues to correct its progressive March even after these set backs.

Conclusion

The reaction to the deployment of Havard is therefore caused by multiple factors: inequality, fear of Chinese doninance, suspicion of Chinese global intentions, and the rise of nationalism, among other factors. These are real issues and should not be dismissed easily or taken lightly.

However, the world is always marching forward, towards unity, integration, living side by side, and sharing and there is no fear, prejudice, nor misinformation that can turn back the tide towards all citizens of all races and creeds living together side by side in prosperity and harmony.

In South Africa, the ANC has been at the forefront of ushering such a world.

Such a progressive world, however, has not come without resistance and setbacks, but it marches on.

Yonela Diko is the former spokesperson to the Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation. You can follow him on @yonela_diko.

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