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ANC politician unrepentant after Jewish property smear

  • Lebogang-Maile-1
Gauteng Human Settlements MEC Lebogang Maile has insulted the Jewish community by accusing Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba of “giving buildings to Jews”, but he refuses to apologise, saying he did nothing wrong.
by TALI FEINBERG | Sep 26, 2019

Maile’s offensive comment followed a tweet that claimed that Mashaba was “reclaiming the inner city the ANC [African National Congress] gave to Nigeria”, and was transforming it into “the Jozi we want”. His response to the tweet praising Mashaba’s efforts was, “He’s actually giving them [the buildings] to Jews. Ask him who are the new owners of these buildings?”

Mashaba said he was “horrified and disappointed” at the tweet, and said that a senior politician “should know better than to drag the Jewish community into a conflict and create lies. It’s a dangerous game he’s playing.”

He said the tender process for revamping the buildings had always been transparent and was approved by the Johannesburg City Council. Furthermore, all winning tenders were listed on the City of Johannesburg website, so there was no need to wonder about who they were awarded to.

“There is no law that precludes the Jewish community from participating in the city of Johannesburg,” the mayor said. “If he [Maile] has a problem with me or the city of Johannesburg, why bring in the Jewish people?” He said that as an MEC, Maile and those above him in office – even the president – owed the Jewish community an explanation.

Responding to questions from the SA Jewish Report, Maile elaborated on what he meant by his tweet.

“It’s public knowledge that mayor Mashaba is giving a sizeable chunk of business from the City of Johannesburg to our white compatriots, including the Jewish community. This has never been disputed by the mayor or DA [Democratic Alliance] itself,” he says.

This is problematic, because “given our heinous apartheid past, blacks in general and Africans in particular, were denied opportunities to participate fully in the ownership and control of the economy. Part of our concerted efforts is to de-racialise the economy and make sure that our people participate fully in the mainstream economy. It’s an undisputed fact that white compatriots, including Jews, have benefited more than our own people, hence it’s important that space is created for blacks to be empowered economically so that we build a genuinely non-racial South Africa.”

Even if Jewish businessmen have won tenders legally to renovate these buildings, Maile says he won’t take back his tweet. “I don't see anything wrong with my tweet because I was stating a fact.”

He says it isn’t racist. “I belong to the ANC, and my party has always promoted non-racialism. As a disciplined ANC cadre, I stand for non-racialism.” Asked if he understands why people believe the tweet to be problematic, racist, and anti-Semitic, Maile says, “We should always be open to having robust engagement on sensitive matters that seek to unite us as we forge ahead to build a country that accommodates all of us, including economic inclusion.”

Asked if he would apologise to the Jewish community for the tweet, Maile says, “I haven’t said anything that warrants a public apology to our Jewish community. If anything, it’s the long-suffering black majority that are owed an apology owing to the fact that we are not moving fast enough with the transformation of the economy, giving the land back to its rightful owners, and ensuring that they have access to productive assets as part of building an inclusive, equitable, non-racial society.”

Karen Milner, the Gauteng deputy chairperson of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) says that MEC Maile has called on all South Africans to join hands, but, “ironically, he is the one to single out a minority group and suggest that we are somehow unjustly benefiting at the expense of the greater Johannesburg population because of the supposedly unethical practices of the Democratic Alliance. What’s worse, Maile has adopted the position that he has done nothing wrong, but simply exposed the facts.

“The real question is why the MEC chose to identify the alleged building owners as being Jewish at all, and moreover to do so in a context implying that they were benefiting at the expense of the majority population?

“It has become a matter of concern to the SAJBD that to an alarming extent, the official opposition in South Africa is being portrayed as a party that is secretly beholden to Jewish interests. This is a clearly racist allegation for which there exists no credible evidence.

“Even if it should prove to be the case that Jewish community members have acquired ownership of the buildings in question, their being Jewish is irrelevant. Pointedly drawing attention to the fact, especially in such a context, can only be regarded as malicious,” says Milner.

She points out that a few years ago, then deputy minister and ANC Western Cape Chairperson Marius Fransman made similar allegations about the DA and Jewish property owners in Cape Town. At the time, MP and veteran anti-apartheid activist Professor Ben Turok criticised him, saying, “anyone who perpetuates an ethnic or racial stereotype could not only inflame anti-Semitism but lacks real understanding of South Africa’s political reality”.

In its editorial on the same issue, the Cape Times commented, “Whether or not property ownership remains dominated by whites is relevant because of South Africa’s history. However, it’s of no possible interest whether or not those landowners are Jewish.”

Says Milner, “Clearly, singling out Jewish ethnicity in relation to business interests is an old anti-Semitic trope that a non-racist party should not be engaging in. The SAJBD has requested a meeting with Mr Maile, in which we would explain the offensiveness of his comments.”

“His tweet is pure, undisguised anti-Semitism,” says Renney Plit, who has been a leader in the upliftment of the Johannesburg CBD for more than 20 years. “He is more concerned about which race or religion is assisting in housing for the poor than actually addressing the problem. The ANC failed miserably at this, which is probably why he is making these comments.” He points out that as far as he knows, no Jewish businessmen have been granted buildings in the open tenders awarded thus far.

Brian Azizollahoff, who has been active in the property sector for more than 30 years, says, “This is an uneducated, simplistic comment. No one is giving anything to anyone. These buildings were purchased, and investors have spent and continue to spend huge amounts of money upgrading or converting the buildings. Since Jews are not the only landlords, the remark is clearly anti-Semitic in nature, and his agenda is ominous. Historically, many of the buildings were purchased by entrepreneurial developers when the major landlords were abandoning the CBD. In fact, the Jewish landlords I know have had a massively positive impact that has benefited the people.”

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