Former businessman Mayor Herman Mashaba resigned as the mayor of Johannesburg on Monday, 21 October 2019 following the election of ex-leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA) Helen Zille as the chair of the party’s influential Federal Council over the weekend.
To be honest I am one of the people who were quite skeptical when Mashaba accepted to stand as the DA mayoral candidate for Johannesburg in 2016, but his frankness and boldness won me over in the past few months. His standpoint on the influx of illegal immigrants in South Africa, and Johannesburg in particular, set him apart from many people who avoided open debate on the subject. His inner city projects were also winning him fans across the country.
It is against this brief background that I became Mashaba’s keen admirer from a distance since I am not a member of his party. As such, I think there is something that the majority of black South Africans need to learn and appreciate from the issues that led to Mashaba’s resignation.
At the heart of Mashaba’s resignation is his concern that the party was being ‘taken over by right-wing elements’. He then said in his press statement, ‘I cannot reconcile myself with a group who believe that race is irrelevant.’ The race issue came as a surprise but it looks like Mashaba’s close association with the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and exposure to grassroots problems changed his perspective.
He particularly cited Zille’s election to the powerful post as ‘a victory for people in the DA who stand diametrically opposed to my beliefs and value system, and I believe those of most South Africans of all backgrounds.’ The re-emergence of Tony Leon and arrogance of the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), where Zille worked after she resigned from politics, certainly irked the outspoken outgoing mayor.
In short, Mashaba feels leader Mmusi Maimane and the entire black leadership are disrespected by ‘the right-wing’ faction in the DA.
Enough about DA internal politics.
A few months ago I lambasted black directors and managers for their lack of honesty and narcissism when entrusted with positions of responsibility. My issue is that corporate South Africa has not transformed in the past 25 years and year after year the equity reports confirm this occurrence. Yet, no single black manager or director has come out scathing to admonish his or her employer for refusal to change.
To be a member of the DA, at least reading from Mashaba’s statement, is akin to what blacks go through every day in South Africa’s largely white private sector. Many black people mock Mashaba, Maimane and other black DA members as ‘sellouts’, ‘rent-a-black’ and other derogatory names.
What these individuals omit to acknowledge is that they are also like beautiful ornaments in glass skyscrapers in Sandton where they work. The corporate culture of these companies keeps rejecting them but they stick around because they receive a salary. That salary is lesser than that of a white co-worker who does more or less the same job. Even the least qualified individuals earn more than black graduates.
Researcher Wiseman Magasela wrote as far back as 2000, ‘If you are black in South Africa’s world of work, it is a daily struggle against a system that constantly alienates you, aiming to exclude and sideline you. If you are black, you are never good enough. Powerful but subtle and insidious currents incessantly work at undermining you, pinning you down “where you belong”.’
However, when it comes to politics many blacks claim ‘revolutionary’ pedigree and insult anyone who is a DA member as lily-white. When it comes to employment, black professionals quickly forget about Steve Biko, Amílcar Cabral, Karl Marx and other revolutionaries.
But there is absolutely no difference between being a DA member or being employed in a South African company. Blacks send their kids to schools that they don’t associate with. In fact, they hate every moment they have to drop off their young ones and/or refuse to attend meetings in a place they detest. Going to work every morning elicits the same feelings.
What Mashaba said is that, ‘the DA has been the most difficult coalition partner in this arrangement.’ It appears that the outgoing mayor worked under trying circumstances and without the necessary support from a section of influential DA supporters in Johannesburg’s leafy suburbs. He seems to suggest that the DA’s culture is about white supremacy. How many people complain about racist corporate culture in the workplace?
Magasela argues, ‘Highly educated blacks working in South Africa struggle against a system that aims to exclude and sideline them.’ It is rather strange that black professionals cannot relate their experiences at work with what Mashaba talked about. Also, they appear to need an ‘identikit’ to recognise the culprits who angered Mashaba.
It is a great pity that the likes of the ANC chose to play politics instead of doing a serious introspection. The ANC insists on multiracialism in an effort to appease the powerful white minority. It takes votes from Makweng, Mshenguville and Qumbu to paper over historical divisions through its vapid non-racialism.
Social cohesion and peace in society are constantly undermined by ‘right wing’ elements in corporate, hotels, highways, shopping malls, schools, now in politics and everywhere.
Again quoting Magasela:
‘The forces of change, driven by the principles of democracy, justice, equality, freedom and rights, have delivered you to the organisation among unwilling partners to the changes. Unable to employ the tactics of the good old days, they devise new strategies to deal with you. They refuse to see you, hear you or acknowledge your presence. You become, in their eyes, invisible – past less, presence less, futureless and mindless.’
Whether one is EFF or ANC, we are all like black DA members in a South Africa that keeps rejecting us.
In an interview with Vuyo Mvoko, DA provincial leaders Nqaba Bhanga (EC) and Zwakele Mncwango (KZN) openly sided with Mashaba, and by extension for Maimane, in present debacle. It is rare for black professionals to side with their own when facing an onslaught in the workplace.
The point I am making is that Zille’s experiment of promoting blacks many have frustrated the Madam and her slaan terug crew but its unintended consequences are immense for South Africa and its impressively failing racial experiment. Mashaba calls those who oppose equality, ‘people who do not see that South Africa is more unequal today than it was in 1994.’
Zille is dismissive like her verkrampte friends and says she has struggle credentials in the same way as those who responsible for black misery in the work place. ‘When you question and fight you are labelled, dissuaded and your spirit dampened; you are told in very clear language that you do not know what you are doing or talking about.’ That is exactly what Zille told Mashaba to do in her interview on 702, to shut up!
The black caucus in the DA needs support from everyone who believes in change in South Africa – the likes of Phumzile Van Damme, youth leader Luyolo Mphithi and Mashaba were long singled out as ‘racist leaders’ who needed to be eliminated. This is a common practice in corporate corridors where blacks who refuse to keep quiet are dismissed for weak reasons, usually with the help of black managers.
Black professionals can certainly learn a thing or two from Mashaba’s resignation before singing half-baked revolutionary slogans: they are disappointingly conflicted in the comfort of their salaries!
By Siyabonga P. Hadebe