LETTER: Musk vs Malema: what do you say, Mr President?
Incendiary rhetoric has been a recurrent issue in the country since before 1994.
Weighing in on the EFF’s conduct at its anniversary rally — party leader Julius Malema led a crowd in chanting “shoot to kill” and “kill the Boer, the farmer” — tech mogul Elon Musk asked President Cyril Ramaphosa: “They are openly pushing for the genocide of white people in SA. Why do you say nothing?”
Incendiary rhetoric has been a recurrent issue in the country since before 1994, and nothing more so than this particular set of sentiments. They are deeply threatening to many South Africans, particularly Afrikaners and to the farming community, both of which could be understood by the term “Boer”, the latter explicitly in the term “farmer”.
This is the effect the EFF wants; as next year’s election approaches, expect more of it.
President Ramaphosa will not intervene, in part because on contentious issues his only commitment is to vacillation, and partly because this style of politics has a long track record in the ANC. He will not repudiate part of his own party’s heritage.
Nevertheless, we at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) would caution against calling for prosecution or for the banning of these words. Freedom of speech is the cornerstone of a free society and a constitutional democracy. Despite our distaste for the message, it is important always to err on the side of more rather than less freedom — where restrictions are permissible, they must meet particularly high standards, such as incitement to imminent violence.
For this reason, we have criticised such moves as the banning of the 1928 flag.
What the country needs is a better democratic trajectory: one marked by respectful debate, the contestation of ideas and evidence-based policies to address the genuine deprivation, legitimate grievances and pressing concerns of all SA’s people.
The spectre of violence needs to be decisively excised and the common citizenship of all — in moral and legal terms — reaffirmed. The EFF’s sentiments (and those of much of the ANC) are incompatible with this. But they must be defeated by the force of facts and better arguments.
Fortunately, polling evidence is unambiguous that an overwhelming majority of South Africans desire a future as a united, nonracial country with the opportunities that only sensible policy can provide.
The IRR invites those invested in SA’s future to join us in forging together the centrist majority.
Institute of Race Relations
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