A debate in Parliament on Tuesday on racial tensions gripping university campuses was marked by acrimony and accusations of racism between political parties.
Two EFF MPs were asked to leave the chamber even before the debate got under way after one of them, Phillip Mhlongo, called the DA “these racists” and, after he was asked to withdraw, “these rats”.
His fellow EFF MP, Hlengiwe Hlophe, was also asked to leave after she objected to the versions of “two white men” as to what had happened being preferred by Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli to that of Mhlongo.
FF+ leader Pieter Mulder, who called for the debate, said racial tensions on university campuses this year, unlike the #FeesMustFall campaign of last year, was the work of a small number of activists who were not supported by the majority.
It was an “artificial attempt of certain political powers and the EFF to create a revolutionary climate”, Mulder said.
DA spokeswoman on higher education Belinda Bozzoli pinned the blame for the turmoil on financial neglect of universities by the ANC government, saying while student numbers had more than doubled in 20 years, subsidies for universities had declined from R20 000 a year to R15 000 per student a year.
“So the unstoppable force of increasing numbers of poor students has met the immovable object of the costs of running proper universities,” Bozzoli said.
The UDM’s Nqabayomzi Kwankwa spoke about the role of language in preserving a sense of identity and argued that the tensions were an expression of people believing they had to defend their identity.
Referring to the slogan #AfrikaansMustFall, he said Afrikaans speakers had a right to be taught in their language, as was the case for speakers of indigenous languages, but Afrikaans could not be imposed.
Racial strife should “rouse us from our Rainbow Nation slumber”, Kwankwa said.
The IFP’s Mkhuleko Hlengwa said the situation was being aggravated by “inflammatory rhetoric” of political leaders but finger pointing would not solve the problem.
Cope’s Willie Madisha said students could not be intellectual and racist at the same time. “They are mutually exclusive.”
Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa said while the country needed to reconcile, it needed to agree what it had to reconcile on. “South Africa was conquered by force and up to 1994, it was ruled by force.”.
This history had “thrust upon us its dastardly alter ego, the remnants of a racist ideology that seeks to perpetuate itself with its horrors, vested privileges, embedded interests, in a country fraught with the effects of the economic, social and cultural divisions imposed by centuries of colonialism, segregation and apartheid”.
However, he said the recent upsurge in racial tensions had been used by “opportunists on all sides” to “jostle for the centre-stage”.[Source: Political Bureau]