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Arguing About Race in South Africa

A rare public debate between two top government officials puts the spotlight on the relationship between blacks and "coloureds."

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As the late ANC leader Chris Hani once explained, South Africans love to debate, and this exchange has affirmed that truth. Critics and defenders of each man have stepped up in print and on radio and television, with questioning of the motives of both men and calls from both sides for each to be ousted from his respective position. The ANC weighed in on Tuesday, calling out Manuel out and chastising him for speaking as a free agent, but otherwise speaking in general terms to the membership, saying that all members should refrain from acting as free agents articulating policy.

The latest to enter the fray is the highly controversial cartoonist Zapiro, who tapped into the reference Manuel made to the Freedom Charter, a 1955 document penned by an interracial coalition of groups fighting the apartheid regime, stating, "South Africa belongs to all who live in it." In Zapiro's cartoon, a male figure, labeled Manyi, is urinating on a bathroom wall labeled "The Freedom Charter." In the hall outside, President Zuma, depicted as standing under a showerhead -- an ongoing Zapiro characterization of Zuma, referring to the president's statement that he took a shower after sex to protect himself against HIV -- is walking with his arm around Manuel, saying, "Come on now, Trevor, you know there's still place for non-racial principles!"

If the past is indeed prologue, this debate will be hot for a few days and then take its place on the back burner in the simmering racial pot, until the next racial episode/ingredient causes it to boil over once again. And, as in the States, the media will move on to the next boiling pot. And in neither place does the issue of racism and intolerance remain on the media's front burner. Maybe if it did, both countries could deal constructively and consistently with the elephants in their living rooms.

Charlayne Hunter-Gault, a frequent contributor to The Root, lives in Johannesburg.

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