TODAY the Blue Bulls and the Stormers played the final of rugby’s Super 14 competition at Orlando stadium in Soweto. The match took place in the shadow of the intense symbolism of the Bulls semifinal game at the same stadium a week earlier.
The nation celebrated as tens of thousands of Blue Bulls supporters trekked to Soweto to share pap, vleis and Black Label beer with the locals. Urban legend already has it that, between them, Blue Bulls supporters and those who travelled to Soccer City to watch the Nedbank Cup final drank Soweto’s shebeens dry.
After the semifinal victory, Bulls captain Victor Matfield described the experience: “Loftus is our home, but this was amazing. It was a historical day … it was wonderful. Where can you go and experience vuvuzelas mixed with boeremusiek ?”
It was a ground-breaking moment for the sport of rugby, but it was much more than that. It was evidence of how South Africa’s new centre, comprised of people from all walks of life, all incomes and all races, not only share but practise the founding values of our society, which include nonracialism, fairness, equality of opportunity, justice and reconciliation.
Momentous though these events have been, to suggest that these people found each other for the first time on the streets surrounding Orlando stadium would be mistaken. The rugby games were merely the grand symbolic expression of what has already happened in South Africa over the past 16 years, at back-yard braais, over the water cooler at work, at PTA meetings, at school sports events and at places of worship.
Even as Matfield was leading his team to victory in the semifinal, another event of momentous significance was taking place in Durban: Julius Malema, the self-styled voice of aggressive militancy, took the podium at a provincial youth function to sing “kiss the boer” to enthusiastic, if bemused, delegates.
Malema’s new song may have seemed to be the spontaneous action of an unpredictable personality, but it, too, was evidence of the power of the centre.
The youth leader’s goading of Afrikaners with the “shoot the boer” song had won him national notoriety and had cemented his position as the leader of the ANC’s populist, perhaps even Africanist, lobby, which seeks to abandon nonracialism in favour of a “payback time” approach to the economy by, for example, nationalising the mines.
Malema’s new awareness of the blood-dimmed tide his words were evoking was not brought about by idle introspection. It was the product of the heavy hand of a displeased ANC leadership. They had benignly tolerated his rhetoric as it rose through the octaves, but when it reached its shrillest pitch in the days leading up to the (unrelated, as it turns out) murder of Eugene Terre Blanche, President Jacob Zuma finally turned on Malema.
He did so for one simple reason: Malema was achieving what opposition parties had failed to do: he was disillusioning those who had for decades supported the party. The adjective that Zuma attached to Malema’s extremism was “alien”.
Malema may or may not have come round to the fact that singing “kiss” will take him a lot further in politics than singing “shoot”. But he had best heed the words of the saying, “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”.
This is an old rule of thumb in South African politics. For close on a hundred years, successive ANC leaders have embraced nonracialism, building a “multiclass” mass movement with few peers anywhere in the world. Those who built organisations on racially exclusive tickets have always been condemned to the margins.
Is this wishful thinking ? Fortunately, we don’t need to guess at the size of that democratic centre because we have elections that measure its support against that of the racially exclusive left and right.
An under-reported fact of the 1994 election is the devastating blow it dealt to the PAC — until then held to be a momentous force of the Africanist Left — which garnered a mere 243478 votes, about 90000 fewer than the DA. The majority did not buy into its exclusionist approach. Nor did many buy into the agenda of the right wing. The Freedom Front of Constand Viljoen achieved only 424555 votes.
Sixteen years of democracy have further worn down support on the radical fringes. In the 2009 election, the PAC achieved a paltry 113512 votes, while the Freedom Front Plus was down to a mere 139465 votes.
Compare this with the well over 15 million votes given to the ANC, DA, IFP, UDM and other parties of the democratic centre, and you get the picture.
If anything, parties of the nonracial democratic centre are growing their market share, and there is, frankly, no other political game worth playing in local politics.
Why then, you might ask, does the attention given to the views of extremists of one or another hue, such as Terre Blanche or Malema, far exceed that warranted by the size of their support base?
The answer lies in a major misperception about the people who occupy the democratic centre as being powerless victims of political and economic overlords. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Members of this democratic centre have always successfully challenged those who seek to undermine the core values of the constitution. When these values are threatened, they react with outrage and make their feelings known.
Evidence of this is abundant. People such as those who read this newspaper are vocal when they see these values being challenged. They write letters, they phone in to radio talk shows, they go online, they vent their displeasure on Facebook and they pass around e-mails.
In so doing, they are not giving unwarranted attention to those who should be ignored. They are owning democracy and taking a stand against its erosion, using the channels open to them in a democratic society.
Parties such as the ANC, which tried to pretend that Malema’s utterances could simply be ignored, eventually found themselves with no choice but to act to restore credibility with the people of this democratic centre.
There have been many assaults on our foundation values over the past 16 years, and, some would argue, there are new threats on the horizon.
The objectives being pursued by those who want to depart from our core values read like school debating-society fare: the death penalty, abortion and property rights. Zuma has associated himself with some alarming socially conservative allies who wish to punch holes in constitutional liberties on these and other fronts.
These threats are real and may metastasize into deeds if they are left unchallenged.
The people who shared the joy of a rugby victory in Soweto and those who will sit together on the benches of our incredible World Cup stadiums are, ultimately, the true defenders of this democracy.
Many countries deserving of a bright future have faltered as their people have watched the trampling of the values of democracy in silence.
But this nation is shouting it out, and the message is clear: we are one nation united in defence of our values.
BARAK Obama has captured the Democratic Party’s nomination for the position of US president to be decided later this year.
His ascendency has raised the hope that the US will finally assume its role as a responsible super power that will extract itself from the conflict in Iraq.
But he must still defeat Republican John McCain in the election before this hope can be fulfilled.
There can be no doubt that Africa is celebrating his victory which signals the long overdue deracialisation of American politics. Should he become president, it will go a long way towards removing racial loyalty from politics.
Obama’s Kenyan origins and his street cred in the US, where he worked as a laywer with the downtrodden prior to entering politics
The question that remains is: Will he be able to deliver on his promises or will he succumb to powerful interests?
WITH an extrarordinary rhetorical flourish resting on the line “this is the moment”, Barak Obama won the Democratic nomination to run for US President against Republican John McCain in Minnesota last night.
But, stunned by the reality that her campaign was over, Hillary Clinton failed to concede saying “I will make no decision tonight”.
Obama turned his focus to McCain and outlined a programme that would see the US withdraw from the war in Iraq to take on the domestic challenges of healthcare, education and job creation. Also on the cards, a middle class tax break.
Obama spoke of restoring the US to a position of leadership in the free world and the world will no doubt applaud this re-orientation.
But I can’t help feeling that this massive shift in resources from a failed foreign policy to domestic issues might, ironically, see the US become more insular under an Obama presidency.
In order to win over middle America, Obama is going to have to look inwards and back up his promise of “Change we can believe in” with a better life for those battered by the economy.
THE battle for nomination as Democratic presidential candidate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama has been followed keenly around the world.
Whoever wins this contest will take on Republican John McCain for the position of US President, an office which has lost its lustre under the curatorship of George W Bush.
South Africans are fond of mocking US politics and the money it takes to campaign for office in that country.
But we would learn from the transparency of the nomination process, its involvement of ordinary people and the grilling candidates have had to endure.