On 3 December 2015, IDEAS organised a forum titled “Liberalism as a force against racism”. The main speaker was Mr Mmusi Maimane, leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA) party and the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly of South Africa. A commentary on his speech was given by Dr Lee Hwok Aun, Dr Lee is a Senior Lecturer with the Department of Development Studies at the Faculty of Economics and Administration, Universiti Malaya. The event was attended by more than 75 participants.
The forum began with remarks from Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz, President of IDEAS. He spoke of Malaysia’s first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman’s work in the international arena opposing the policy of apartheid in South Africa. This included leading a boycott of Commonwealth countries against South Africa in the 1960s.
Mr Mmusi Maimane highlighted the legacy of South Africa as nation born out of deep racism. Apartheid created two parallel South Africas: an affluent White South Africa, and a poor and backward Black South Africa. This created a strong racial tension and division between the two populations. He emphasised that Nelson Mandela struggle was against an oppressive system, and not the white race itself. Mr. Maimane stressed that the victory of 1994 was a victory of South Africans against a system that marginalized and oppressed other South Africans. It was not a victory of black over whites. He stated that the African National Congress (ANC) of today is no longer the ANC of Mandela. The party has turned to the use of racial populism to remain in power. ANC now defines Africans as blacks rather than those who are born in Africa.
Mr. Maimane also touched on the history of the Democratic Alliance which formed in 1994. While traditionally a white dominated party, the DA is a multi ethnic party that has slowly gained more votes and support from Blacks and other communities in S. Africa. This can be seen in the growth of votes from 1.7% in the 1994 election to 23% presently. The DA works to create a non-racial society in South Africa.
On the issue of affirmative action policies, Mr. Maimane argued that the Black Economic Empowerment Programme (BEE) with its racial quotas has reinvigorated racial tension. The ANC goal of creating 100 black entrepreneurs ended up creating 100 black cronies with very little empowerment but plenty of corruption. And the blacks remain poor. He stated that the redistributive policies of the programme is counterproductive and won’t work as one can’t redistribute what is not growing. Hence growth is needed and this can only be achieved through a market economy.
The next speaker was Dr Lee Hwok Aun, who delivered his commentary based on his work on “Affirmative Action in Malaysia and South Africa : Contrasting Structure, Continuing Pursuits.” The paper can be downloaded here (http://umexpert.um.edu.my/file/publication/00006071_124301.pdf). .
He noted that there were many similarities between Malaysia and South Africa. Both countries possessed an economically disadvantaged but politically dominant majority as well as having affirmative action policies as part of efforts to address the imbalance. However, the major difference is that South Africa political system is more democratic and has stronger checks and balances compared to that of Malaysia. South Africa also has a proportional system which better reflects voter support for a particular party.
The event ended with a question and answer session.