What does it take to become a native?
Sadly, no. This country is far from the end of racial barbs, even though Malema’s remarks were a climbdown from previous comments about whites.
How much time must pass before people – whites in this case – can claim to be natives of a country? It is noticeable that no “Malema” in the United States, New Zealand, or Australia – or other former British colonies – is calling for whites to leave. But that is possibly because the native inhabitants were entirely dispossessed when whites arrived and never assumed power.
Despite the rancorous fight within the ANC about President Jacob Zuma’s disastrous tenure, he will probably remain in office until his term ends in 2019. But Malema may be a future president, particularly if the EFF combines with a renewed ANC to gain power.
His views speak for many angry, impoverished blacks for whom Nelson Mandela’s forgiveness and reconciliation attitude towards whites does not ring true.
The slogan adopted by Jewish organisations, “Stay home (in South Africa) or go home (to Israel)” seems somewhat insipid today. It could be a lot more forceful, such as: “As Jews, we insist we are as South African as anyone else, with every right and obligation!”
Afrikaners have declared they are here to stay. A National Conservative Party gathering for Afrikaner unity a week ago at Church Square in Pretoria decried what they regarded as an attack on their heritage and culture, and insisted Paul Kruger’s statue stays at Church Square where it has been since 1954.
NCP chief whip Schalk van der Merwe said they demanded a fair share of the country which had belonged to the Boers “for decades and hundreds of years that we have been here”.
Jews cannot claim as long a South African vintage as Afrikaners. The first synagogue, Tikvat Israel, was established in Cape Town in 1849, but the broad mass of Jewish immigration occurred in the late 1800s and early 1900s from Lithuania.
If one asks the question about native inhabitants, the only real original inhabitants of this region are the Khoisan, who were here 30 000 years ago. Every other group since then are essentially “newcomers”. The Khoisan were peaceful, nomadic people, who were hunted and oppressed by all who came afterwards, whether black or white.
Regardless of their length of stay here, it is wrong for Jews to be humbly grateful for being allowed to stay by demagogues like Malema. Despite – or perhaps because of – the country’s ghastly racial history, Jews are as much “native” South Africans today as he is.
Malema sounded a warning last week amid the torrent of white anger at Zuma: “You white people mustn’t cheer me on because I’m opposing Zuma. He is my enemy exactly because he protects white privilege.”
The issue of white obligations after apartheid has always been controversial. Even during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1997, former Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris – who apologised for the South African Jewish community’s “silence” during apartheid – raised this community’s ire when he said he would support a wealth tax on whites.
Jews are entitled to insist on being regarded as fully South African, and to reject attempts by Malema or others to say otherwise. This comes with a challenge, however. The enormous privileges Jews and other whites gained at black expense during three centuries of colonialism and apartheid must be honestly addressed. That is part of being South African.
Read Geoff Sifrin’s regular columns on his blog sifrintakingissue.wordpress.com