IT’S NOT TOO LONG AGO, that I saw the General Secretary of the African National Congress (ANC), Gwede Mantashe, on television, saying the ruling party must remind the black middle class that the freedom and success they enjoy today, did not descend from heaven; that it was tirelessly fought for by many ANC veterans.

I found his implications galling. The message he conveyed, was that the black middle class owes the ANC so much, to reject it. I have no idea what came into his mind that he had to make such statements. But perhaps Mantashe had momentarily chosen to be a true reflection of the contemporary ANC.

What I have noticed, over the past few years, is that most of the leaders and followers of the ANC who I usually fraternize with, be it on social networks or on the streets, think that because their party battled the odious apartheid government, and led South Africa to freedom, black people must forever remain loyal to it; that blacks, will always owe the party unwavering support.

I personally see this attitude everyday on social networks.

I like to engage on global social issues, economics, politics and the society in general. I use Facebook, WordPress, Twitter and Instagram; to share my thoughts and to spark debates about the economic and political events that shape our world today. I started this when I was a graduate student at the University of Cape Town in 2011. Since then, I have never stopped.

Many of my statuses are very controversial, at least to those who get a chance to read them. And some people have found them quite offensive.

But they are not at all alien; they touch on very vital issues South Africa faces today. Some of them have to do with South Africa’s very racial society. And very few people have courage to shrewdly engage on the issues of race, without biases. Today, almost every political analyst or politician panders to his race group, or at least resorts to nationalism in order to make an impression to fellow Africans.

Ramaphosa and Zuma (Gallo)
President of the ANC, Jacob Zuma (on the right); with the Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa. (Picture: Gallo)

On Facebook, few weeks back, I shared my very brief thoughts about Black Economic Empowerment (BEE). I said that if there is Black Economic Empowerment, then logically, we could have White Economic Empowerment. I drew a flurry of comments on this status. Many of them were an assailment aimed at me; for, at least in their opinion, my ignorance about the legacy of apartheid that continues to wreck South Africa’s Black neighborhoods.

What I noted about these comments, was that most of them, did not have to do with facts or logic. Very few people were willing to dispute my points constructively. Most, reminded me that I am black; that I am not supposed to make such statements because of my race. One person wrote that he was surprised this came from a black person; that he found it absurd; and that I’m being forgetful of where black people come from. He believed my education, and my middle-class status has made me ignorant and arrogant. He associated my views with my race, stupidly.

I did not at all suggest Whites must rise to riches at the expense of Blacks. My status was no way closer to such an inference. I would be nuts to suggest so; yet that is how my status was interpreted by my fellow mates. I was expressing my dismay about policies that have been designed to uplift a specific race; instead of addressing the “plight” of the South Africans across all races. I was merely pointing out that such policies may result to racial tensions, which could, to an extent, destabilize the country.

I argued that restructuring and renaming the policy to, for example, “Economic Empowerment” would not rip off Blacks; if of course the intent is to address grinding poverty across all race groups. It would not make Blacks any worst off, unless the aim of the policy is to enrich black tycoons, at the expense of the poor; as BEE currently does.

There are many people amongst minorities who live in poverty. Now shouldn’t they be a concern to our government? Why not? Because they are light-skinned? I find such reasoning preposterous.

No matter how you structure and rename BEE; Blacks will make up the most of the beneficiaries, since they form a big portion of those previously disadvantaged. So I really didn’t understand the way they interpreted my status.

Those who I know as ANC’s stern supporters defended the policy; yet not a single one explained to me how our society would be worst off if BEE was amended to open up opportunities for other races. They said the objective of this policy was to address the injustices of the past. But that objective would not change; it would remain the same, while we open doors for the less- fortunate minorities.

Many described me as out of touch with reality. In what way? I have no idea.

This has been the case many, many times; where people expect me to speak as a “black person”, not as an “individual”. I find it utterly absurd and condescending to associate one’s point-of-view with his race. Dr. Ben Carson said, it is “exactly the definition of racism”.

Most of the people who resort to these tendencies are members of the ANC; who believe black people must think in a certain way that defines blackness; and that they will always owe them something for the party’s investment into the anti-apartheid struggle. But this is not how they are supposed to view the South African society. People who threw themselves into the struggle against minority rule prior 1994, did not do so for the objective of strengthening their political movements. They fought for a free, democratic society; where we all, regardless of our race or creed, could have a voice about the future of this nation. They were hungry, not for the political power of their movements, but to live in a democratic country. This is highlighted on many Nelson Mandela’s speeches that he gave during his self-less struggle for the new South Africa. He more than once echoed that he had fought against black domination; and had fought against white domination. That he had forever envisioned a democratic South Africa, where we all live side by side in peace.

Now that we do live in this thriving democracy, it does not at all mean that we should forever be expected to rally behind the ANC or the Pan-Africanist Congress, even if either, or both of the two, derail us to the gutter.

If blacks choose to abandon the ANC or speak against its many nonsensical policies; for any reasons that might be considered valid or invalid by various segments within the country; I do not think the party has a right to make hawkish statements against them; to demean them, and associate their opinions with their race. “Freedom to choose” is what our heroes and heroines fought for. When most black people begin to envision a future without the ANC, those are the fruits of our young democracy. Being black does not mean you will have to forever associate yourself with the ruling party. We owe them nothing. That they will have to learn to live with.

Phumlani M. UMajozi is a Professional Business Analyst, a Policy Analyst at Independent Entrepreneurship Group, and Youth Coordinator at Free Market Foundation South Africa.