SUBESH PILLAY | Steenhuisen should also be thrown off the cliff for that interview
His responses to Gareth Cliff’s comments in infamous broadcast reveal how out of touch DA leader is from SA’s realities
The travesty of the now infamous Gareth Cliff rant about the “irrelevance” of racist attitudes is not so much in what Cliff said, but in what John Steenhuisen did not say. His completely infertile response to Cliff’s tirade is a sad reflection of Steenhuisen’s pedestrian understanding of the tragic impact that race and racism continue to inflict on society.
Rather than show leadership and call Cliff to order by taking a principled stance against racism, Steenhuisen gloated along as Cliff launched an evidently misogynistic attack on Mudzuli Rakhivhane.
This was a rather ironic twist, in the broader context of the interview, which had delved into the DA’s equally fatal and disastrous attempt to score political points out of the racial tensions in Phoenix. Ironic in the sense that the DA had itself attempted to used race in a failed effort to buy favour from the Indian community. It was of course Steenhuisen who initially defended the poster, before it was removed.
In the Cliff interview, Steenhuisen’s body language and one phrase retort “and service delivery, service delivery” laid bare his preference to again score cheap political points, an own goal at that, rather than use the platform to condemn racism and gender-based prejudices. His non-response was a tacit endorsement of Cliff’s misguided and abhorrent views that racism is not an issue to most people.
The stark reality of contemporary SA is that race continues to be the single most defining feature of our national life. Cliff and, by extension, Steenhuisen also made a laughable misdiagnosis that councillors have no rule to play in addressing “race, climate change and gender politics”.
It is said that evil thrives when good men and women are silent in the face of injustice. Assuming for a moment Steenhuisen can be said to be a good man, his loud silence and mischievous smirk are telling testimony to his endorsement of race-based privilege and gender inequality.
One of the central roles of municipalities, and councillors, is to address the race question from a spatial dimension. Spatial transformation, or the reconfiguration of our towns and cities from the backbone of their apartheid design into integrated and economically efficient spaces, remains an eminent challenge that will confront the incoming cohort of councillors, as it has the past four local government administrations.
Intertwined in the spatial narrative are issues of climate change, including carbon reduction strategies through increased focus on public transport, cities’ energy mix agendas, reconceptualising building design to enhance energy efficiency and the provision of municipal infrastructure to mitigate climate change risks and impacts.
Municipalities are also critical in the fight against the pandemic of gender-based violence, with everything from the design of public open spaces, pavements and public lighting to the provision of safe spaces for victims of gender-based violence. These all have a role to play in the design of cities that are safe spaces for their inhabitants, particularly women, children and the vulnerable in society.
Perhaps Cliff can be forgiven for his obvious misunderstanding of the role of councillors and municipal governance, but Steenhuisen’s narrow-mindedness about “service delivery” speaks volumes for the party he leads and its inability to comprehend the underlying challenges facing our local government system, including the climate change and gender equality agendas.
It is said that evil thrives when good men and women are silent in the face of injustice. Assuming for a moment Steenhuisen can be said to be a good man, his loud silence and mischievous smirk are telling testimony to his endorsement of race-based privilege, gender inequality and a reflection of complete inability to understand the role and function of modern day municipalities.
Subesh Pillay is a social and political commentator, local government governance adviser and former city councillor in the City of Tshwane. In 2016 he was conferred the title of alderman for his service of over 20 years to the city. He is a former member of the national executive committee of the South African Local Government Association (Salga).