Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom appears to have been the initiator of the African National Congress’s (ANC) November 27-29 in-house debate over whether to recall Jacob Zuma as party leader. (Zuma survived, but is further weakened politically within the ANC by the episode.) Hanekom, who is white, is a useful reminder that the ANC remains a multi-racial party, though its electoral base is overwhelmingly black. In the aftermath of the ANC’s Zuma debate, some black political officials that backed the president accused Hanekom of “racism,” but others defended him as a full member of the movement, even though he is white.
Hanekom and his wife were imprisoned for three years under apartheid. In the post-apartheid Mandela government, he was minister of agriculture (he was a farmer). Subsequently, he has held numerous positions in the ANC government, including minister of science and technology. He has been minister of tourism since 2014.
He is at the very center of the ANC party power structure, and he has served on the National Executive Committee, its highest governing body, since 1994. He was the chair of the party’s National Disciplinary Committee that in 2012 was instrumental in the expulsion of bad-boy Julius Malema, who went on to found the Economic Freedom Fighters, a party that now challenges the ANC from the left.
He also reflects the liberal social and democratic views of the Mandela generation. For example, in April 2016, he was the keynote speaker at the global convention of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association in Cape Town. There he said, “There is a huge economic value in LGBT tourism and it can help our country to get more visitors to come and stay here and spend money in our restaurants and accommodation. We have to change attitudes and break down stereotypes.”
Diversity within the ANC extends to policy as well as ethnicity. South Africa is the only African country that permits gay marriage, the result of a court case based on the country’s constitution. Though it and a gay lifestyle is deeply unpopular with the party’s base, the ANC has made no move to amend the constitution to prohibit it.