In Monday morning’s Cape Times, Songezo Mjongile, the provincial secretary of the African National Congress (ANC), took to the op-ed page to defend the Times‘ firing of editor Alide Dasnois. His article ran alongside that of a “Black Consciousness” professor, Simphiwe Sesanti, who defended Dasnois against charges of racism. What is so striking about the ANC official’s article is its virulence and its total indifference to the truth of the charges.
Mjongile asserts, without proof (“We are told…”), that Dasnois “appointed only white journalists” and that “many journalists of colour left the newspaper.” He then asserts that those defending Dasnois in the name of freedom of expression are actually upset that the Times was taken over by a “black consortium”–an affront, he says, to the readers of a newspaper “which has traditionally been a mouthpiece for neo-liberal fascists.”
It is not even clear what the term “neo-liberal fascists” means, except that it is calculated to demonize. It is worth pointing out that the Times has actually leaned left on most issues, showing great deference to the ANC even while it gives space to opposition viewpoints. But the ANC is intolerant–at the highest level, and in every faction–of dissent. There is only one way not to be a racist, and that is to be absolutely obedient to the Party.
This is the sort of thing that made me quite happy to have left South Africa. I will never forget the day when the ANC leader in Parliament pointed at the opposition benches and told them that they were there only because of the ANC’s beneficence–that if the ANC had used the “Nuremberg” approach (i.e. treated them as the Nazis they apparently were), they would all be in jail. (Many members of the opposition walked out.) I was deeply shocked.
Nor will I forget the day when then-Deputy President Jacob Zuma, filling in for President Thabo Mbeki during parliamentary question time, answered a question about Zimbabwe by implying that the only people who cared about that country’s troubles were white people, and that the only reason they cared was that white people were having their land taken. I happened to be considering buying an apartment that day in Cape Town. I backed out.
There are echoes–faint, to be sure, but certain–in some of what we hear from President Barack Obama’s most vehement supporters. (If you oppose Obamacare, for instance, you may not only be a racist, but also probably wish to deny people life-saving health care.) The difference is that the American opposition is stronger, and the state controls less of your life (so far). That is one reason I celebrate my decision to come back to the U.S.