Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Malaysia and South Africa, In Denial?

Written by johnleemk on 4:20:01 am Oct 21, 2007.
Categories: ,

Earlier today, the South African team won the Rugby World Cup for the second time. It was a poignant moment for them, considering the divisive nature of sport during the era of Apartheid.

Before the granting of full rights to black South Africans in the early 1990s, football was a sport for blacks, and rugby a sport for whites. The divisions persist to the present day; the South African rugby team has only three blacks on it.

However, the last time South Africa won the World Cup, it was hailed as an immense triumph not for white South Africans or black South Africans, but for all citizens.

South Africa is a favourite point of comparison for critiques of Malaysian ethnic policies; Malaysia's division of its people into de facto first and second class citizens is often compared to apartheid. I think that's a reasonable comparison to make.

Of course, there are a lot of people who would beg to differ. Most Malaysians accept that different races are just different; to them, as long as everyone minds their own business, it doesn't matter that we aren't united. What really makes Malaysia unique as a nation is how its different people are united solely by their belief that they should be divided.

Every race demands the right to be special; every race wants special treatment. Everyone wants to be Malay, Chinese and Indian; they are interested in being Malaysian only insofar that it assists them in constructing their own separate identities.

If we truly are not like apartheid South Africa, I wonder, why is it that we are so much worse than post-apartheid South Africa? Although like any heterogenous country, they have their ethnic tensions and ethnic problems, South Africa's government and their people largely recognise that they are not primarily black or white; they are South African.

In Malaysia's case, we seem only interested in perpetuating our ethnic differences. They say that the first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem. South Africa admitted it had a problem 13 years ago. Malaysia continues to deny that there is any problem at all with treating its people differently.

Why am I intrinsically less Malaysian than someone else? Why is this not my country as well? Too many Malays say I don't appreciate what they give me; too many Chinese and Indians share this opinion. But what we fail to grasp is that what we have is not the Malays' to give.

Of course, you can make the case that 50 years ago, the Malays consciously granted a substantial number of non-Malays citizenship. Maybe you can hold that against those non-Malays, such as my grandparents.

But why hold any of this against me? Why am I not entitled to the same rights as a citizen, the same recognition and acknowledgement of my worth as a Malay Malaysian? Because I happened to be born into the wrong family?

We often wonder why Malaysians migrate; we often wonder why we lack patriotic sentiment. Not too long ago, it was announced that 70% of those who renounced their citizenship in the past decade were Malay.

OF course, the primary reason is economic; nobody cares if they don't have legal rights if they're rolling in money. A million dollars can buy you any of the rights you want. But at the same time, these Malaysians who leave, these Malaysians who don't have any significant passion for their country (and this includes the Malays) have recognised that our country has a problem. There is something innately wrong with declaring your citizens to be of different standing based on an accident of birth.

South Africa has recognised her problem; Malaysia continues to deny it, as epitomised by our Foreign Minister's recent scandalous remarks. Until we admit that we have a problem, we really are little better than apartheid-era South Africa.


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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

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