OPINIONISTA

Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar: Electoral hate speech is a dangerous game

We must fight for a better South Africa that includes all who live in it. We will need to confront the inadequacies of our elected, or sometimes self-appointed, leaders so that we can free ourselves from fear and strive to meaningfully change course and build a truly inclusive South Africa.

There are several months until South Africans endures the onslaught of electoral politics — the showmanship, the deceit, the confetti, the obsession with stadium numbers and, worse still, the disingenuous bile that often accompanies the election cycle.

The stakes in the lead-up South Africa’s national election will be high. The theatrics, noise and gamesmanship will be in overdrive. South Africans will be exposed extreme political rhetoric that seeks to not centre the conversation, but to appeal to fear.

People will need to be on guard to avoid the dire consequences of falling for undemocratic and fear-mongering tactics. South Africans must be reminded about the dangers of xenophobia — how fear can distort perceptions and lead to violence.

We must act responsibly — a state of desperation, fear and anger has crept into society and our body politic. This has not happened accidentally, but rather has been used as a deliberate tool in order to shape and reshape narratives, often for ulterior motives. This sophistry is playing out in a series of commissions of inquiry as well as in the fallout of the VBS scandal after the release of The Great Bank Heist report.

Fear is an effective tool and we have seen this used throughout the lost decade of Jacob Zuma, resulting in the paralysis in our public institutions including the South African Revenue Service, various local governments and provincial governments.

Fear is also an appropriate response when communities feel that they are attacked or under threat. It is a natural response when communities feel that they have not been heard and that their living conditions and wellbeing are constantly deteriorating.

Fear is the natural response to a broken society structurally trapped in inequality, poverty, unemployment and patriarchy. However, sound leadership in a constitutional democracy such as ours does not feed into that fear, but rather responds by elevating our gaze and focusing on building coalitions that can drive and work towards real change.

Fear can also reveal itself on the ground in communities. For instance, a number of communities across Cape Town wanted to be heard — from Bellville, Bishop Lavis, Bonteheuwel, Langa, Steenberg, Manenberg, Nyanga, Hanover Park, Flamingo Vlei, Samora Machel, Philippi, Mitchells Plain, Khayelitsha, Kensington, Factreton, Heideveld, Delft, Kraaifontein, Ottery to Ruyterwacht.

We witnessed a similar outcry in Ennerdale and Eldorado Park in Gauteng. Communities embarked on a series of protests and demonstrations, all seeking to urge those in public office and service to act. Sadly, many of these communities will continue to wait for the appropriate response. Calls to shut down areas have been made in the hope that will improve lives.

As a young child, I was exposed to the rough-and-tumble streets of Kalksteenfontein in Cape Town (where neighbouring suburbs included areas such as Kriefgat (now known as Golden Gate), Bonteheuwel, Heideveld and Bishop Lavis.

Reflecting on that past, I am mindful that the issues raised in the public domain today are not very different to the issues of 25 years ago. However, there appears to me to be a deepening sense of hopelessness and desperation that lingers even after you have left those postal codes behind. In spite of the pleas (echoed through the #TheTotalShutdown movement), exclusion and poverty remains entrenched, criminal activity remains part of the societal fabric and young children seemed trapped to live in a perverse repetitive loop.

The calls in the Western Cape, but also in Gauteng, have appeared to be desperate, imperfect and to a certain extent rooted in deep sense of fear. Fear that is sometimes grounded in xenophobic blindness, disturbing remnants of “swart gevaar” or somehow rooted in some warped Tricameral Parliament logic from the apartheid era.

These are the tendencies we must be alive to — we must guard against them, especially if we are to work towards addressing the structural reality of inequality and poverty. We can ill afford the knee-jerk reaction to exclude and “other” those in our society and country who are vulnerable and susceptible to exploitation.

We must be alive to this, not only in those who seek public office, but also in those who seek to guide communities and speak on behalf of the people.

South Africans are not served well by movements that refuse to consider our context. The need for robust conversations and the need to ensure our attempts to shape a better union are guided by the Constitution and the imperative to ensure the problems and ensuing solutions are rooted in intersectionality and a sound human rights foundation. There should be no space in our constitutional democracy that allows for hatred, racism, xenophobia and misogyny.

It is not surprising that in this abnormal environment, exacerbated by our recent past, that disruption seems to be the most effective way to be heard. Thousands of South Africans continue to feel that they are not heard or seen – and most of all that they are not served.

Protests, disruption and visible demonstrations, therefore, are often seen as the only means to receive a response. Some South Africans continue to wait for some acknowledgment that their concerns and needs will be answered by a government that cares — by a government that answers the call of service.

The 2019 national elections will alarmingly see the introduction of campaign talk about “undocumented immigrants”, which is not only the campaign platform of Donald Trump, but appears to be part of the electoral campaign strategy recently unveiled by the Democratic Alliance.

The challenge for all South Africans is that we should be stamping out exclusion and othering from society so that we can collectively contribute to one that is rooted in humanity, dignity and equity in order to confront the triple threat of poverty, unemployment and inequality.

South Africans cannot rely on the politics of fear and despair — we cannot allow our future to founded on fear and exclusion. We must fight against the fear even if it comes from within, or from those seeking our vote in 2019.

We must fight for a better South Africa that includes all who live in it. We will need to confront the inadequacies of our elected, or sometimes self-appointed, leaders so that we can free ourselves from fear and strive to meaningfully change course and build a truly inclusive South Africa. DM

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