I am an African
28 January 2013
Douglas Gibson asks why a statement accepted overseas, should be questioned at home
I am an African. I am a South African. My home language is English. I am an Anglican. I have been married to the same woman for forty one years. I am a liberal democrat. I am all these things whether you like it or not and irrespective of what you are and what your choices are. One thing for sure, I am not better than you - or worse than you - you and I are equal. That is what our constitution says.
Isn’t it amazing how little has changed in South Africa? The racists are still racists. In the 1961 General Election, Dr Albert Hertzog was still a Nat Minister (before leading the HNP). At a public meeting in Pretoria he repeatedly referred to “die Engelse” as the embodiment of everything that was unpatriotic. I stood up and asked why he could not regard me as a South African instead of an “Engelsman.” His response was quite clever: “Dear Boy, it’s a term of endearment.” His real purpose what to delegitimize my views by categorising me as somehow less than Afrikaners.
That is exactly what Jackson Mthembu, the ANC spokesperson tried to do with Lindiwe Mazibuko recently by claiming she does not understand Africans. She is less of an African than he is, presumably because she speaks “proper” English. My point is that his view is racist and intolerant and utterly arrogant and presumptuous.
What is an African? Thabo Mbeki answered that in his famous speech in Parliament when we accepted the constitution. He said that he was an African. Tony Leon immediately - and brilliantly - responded by saying that he too was an African. Did anyone dare to say that he was not?
While representing South Africa as an ambassador I stated many times that I am an African and the people in the countries concerned accepted that statement unquestioningly, seeing me as the representative of a rainbow nation with room for people of all colours, cultures, languages, religions and political views. It took a while for some to realise that a white person could be an African but they soon grasped: “many cultures, many races, many religions, many languages in SA.” Then they understood.
The African grouping in the diplomatic corps in Thailand consisted of South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Egypt (with Morocco as an honorary member). We all looked different; three were Muslims, two were Christians, one had three wives, one spoke Luo, two spoke Arabic, two spoke English at home. We all had different political viewpoints and different cultural identities, but we were all Africans. Certainly the Thais recognised our very high profile African grouping. Once they got used to some Africans being Arab, some being black and some being white, the Thais helped us celebrate Africa Day in style.
I appeal to the ANC to rein in their spokesperson (and a few of their ministers and other lesser lights). If we disagree on political matters, as one does and should do in a democracy, let’s do so without tackling the very being, or the colour, or the culture, the accent or the life choices of our fellow Africans and South Africans.
Douglas Gibson is former Opposition Chief Whip. and Ambassador to Thailand. He can be followed on Twitter here.
This article first appeared in The Citizen.