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Mahlengi Bhengu believes that the Democratic Alliance’s recent actions constitute race baiting

In recent months, we have seen what can only be characterised as a race baiting and racially polarising narrative by the Democratic Alliance, on a raft of issues, most prominent has been the employment equity bill.

It seems as though the Democratic Alliance are desperate to pander right wing interests and stoke racial tensions in the process. In an attempt to recast an old debate with new vigour this party is determined to define itself outside the confines of our Constitution.

If one closely follows the DA’s narrative on the Employment Equity amendment bill, one could be forgiven, if they thought this amendment bill has fallen like pie out of the sky and the concept of socio-economic transformation is completely novel in the South African context.

The DA has taken a leaf out of the book of its predecessor, the Democratic Party.

It frames our Constitutional democracy and era as one which should simply white-wash history and “move on”. In its thesis South Africa can be reconstructed without a systematic attempt to undo the legacy of racism and deep structural inequalities that we have inherited from apartheid. As result they seem hell bent on arguing like the Democratic Party did in the late 90s that affirmative action policies are nothing but reverse apartheid tools. Not only is this false but it is also a very sophisticated Swart Gevaar motif.

They project the Constitution not as document that demands substantive equality but rather as one which makes us blind to historical injustices.

A view which is completely at odds with the very first clause in the preamble of Constitution which reads, “We, the people of South Africa, Recognise the injustices of our past.”

In other words, the advent of democracy and our Constitution does not make us new nation without systemic challenges overnight.

Moreover, this is the second count, they cast the affirmative action debate as if it is new within the South African context. The idea of affirmative action is, of course, no newcomer. Even as far back as 1994 Comrade Albie Sachs (as he was known then) and who later became our prominent jurists among the first justices of the Constitutional Court wrote:

“The solution we chose was that of affirmative action. The phrase has no Cold War associations. It was sufficiently open to take on a specific South African content and meaning and yet concrete enough to have an unmistakable thrust in favour of the oppressed. Whatever form might emerge or whatever definition be given, everyone knew what the essence of affirmative action was: it meant taking special measures to ensure that black people and women and other groups who had been unfairly discriminated against in the past, would have real chances in life.”

It did justice to the voice of Albertina Sisulu, who said: “Women are the people who are going to relieve us from all this oppression and depression.”

Indeed women empowerment and empowerment of oppressed peoples is a pre-requisite for equality.

Mahlengi Bhengu is the National Spokesperson of the African National Congress.

This article first appeared in the Sunday World and is published with permission.