Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu confronted the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in parliament over their pursuit of Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan, accusing the party of racism towards South Africans of Indian descent.
Mthembu has made it clear that he opposes what he sees as the EFF’s attack on Gordhan before. Last week, at an event in Pretoria, he said: “I can tell you why they hate Pravin with a passion. [It] is because he fought corruption in the state-owned entities, then stepped on the corrupt toes of the cronies of some EFF people.”
This time, he alleged that racism is behind the party’s perceived vendetta against the minister.
“Why do the EFF pursue Gordhan so much? Let’s just try and answer this question,” he said.
“Why this anarchic pursuit of this stalwart of our liberation movement?
One reason that we want to put is that there is a deep-seated hatred for our Indian compatriots among this.”
After this provoked the anger of the EFF caucus, Mthembu continued: “Of course, you are racist. You are.”
This followed comments from EFF leader Julius Malema about Gordhan on Wednesday, during his reply to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s budget vote.
“Gordhan needs to know that unlike you who is traumatised by him, we’re not scared of him,” the EFF leader said to the president.
“We’re going to take him head-on, toe-to-toe and there is none of you who can tell us how we must take him on. We’re not going to be held to ransom by Pravin. You’re scared of him, we’re not scared of him, the same way you were scared of Zuma. We took him on, today he’s sitting [at] the commission like a lost soul. We will do the same with Gordhan,” he continued.
Malema also accused Ramaphosa of cowardice in not acting against Gordhan.
“What kind of a president are you, who when presented with hardcore evidence of the most dangerous activities you still don’t act? The reality is that the rogue unit was not started with a directive of any sitting president and did not report to him. This means whoever they reported to was as powerful, if not more than a sitting president,” he said.
Malema himself has been accused of racism towards Indian South Africans before and has been taken to the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHR) over comments at rallies, although the complaint was dismissed.
At the EFF’s youth celebrations in Klerksdorp, North West, Malema took to the podium to tell a large crowd: “[The] majority of Indians hate Africans, [the] majority of Indians are racist, and we must never be scared to say that they are racist.
“I’m not saying all Indians, I’m saying the majority of them,” he added.
Not long after this, in his speech to mark the EFF’s fifth birthday at Sisa Dukashe stadium in East London, Malema used the term “Indian supremacists”.
“There is no place in South Africa for white supremacists and Indian supremacists,” he said.
Giving evidence of what he sees as Indian people mistreating black people, Malema recounted: “We went to Durban during our fourth anniversary and I visited a factory where Indians were underpaying African people.”
Before this, EFF deputy president Floyd Shivambu was accused of racism after complaining about “non-African” Ismail Momoniat’s “repeated presence” in meetings.
Momoniat is the deputy director-general of Treasury and a struggle veteran.
“I think he undermines Africans. He does not take the director-general, the finance minister or the deputy finance minister seriously. He thinks he is superior to them. He takes all the decisions and he is always here in Parliament as if he is National Treasury alone. He is supposed to focus on what he is assigned to,” Shivambu said, leading to outrage from finance committee chairman Yunus Carrim.