Why are none of the ministers appointed to key economic portfolios in Zumas Cabinet black? This question from ANC Youth League president Julius Malema has caused the national debate on race to flare up yet again. The ANC leadership, quoting the partys nonracial stance, dismissed the view as marginal. The race issue: A special report Obviously there are these feelings in society, so its no wonder it came up in the ANC, said national working committee member Pallo Jordan. But it is a marginal view, it is not the majority. Yet, on the heels of Malemas outburst, Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu argued that the issue should be taken more seriously, later calling for a national debate on race. Then President Jacob Zuma put his foot down. There is no need for a debate, he told the nation, despite promising potential ANC voters that thorny issues could be debated if necessary. The president insisted that it would just take the country backwards. But his speech to the Cosatu congress this week touched on an issue that has been at the heart of the new race debate: the belief that there is a conspiracy against black executives in the private sector. Without spelling out how, he said government would have to take this into account in the implementation of affirmative action. The ANCs race relations were never clear-cut. Many whites had been active in the South African ­Communist Party, which had a long history of nonracialism. White members of the Communist Party had dedicated their lives to ANC work; journalist Ruth First was given the task of writing up the ­history of the movement. But it was only in 1969 that whites were allowed to be in the party. Still, the influence of the Black ­Consciousness movement compelled the ANC leadership to take cognisance of the influence of whites in key positions. They wanted to avoid letting them take control of the party -- even though the communists were the conduit for the partys support from the Soviet Union. The gap came when the USSR weakened significantly and the influence of the communists in the party also started to wane. At the time of liberation in 1994, some still saw the number of white people in the party, albeit never in the top six leadership positions, as a source of concern. It was felt that people like Joe Slovo, Ronnie Kasrils and Jeremy Cronin should not be seen as being intellectually superior to black people in the ANC, said one ANC cadre, who asked not to be named. The Mandela era of reconciliation did not sit well with everyone in the party. Some felt that Madiba bent over backwards to accommodate whites with his appointment of former president FW de Klerk to his Cabinet. The tide changed when Thabo Mbeki took the reins. He put an end to the ­gratuitous accommodation of whites and embarked on a rigorous campaign to right the wrongs of the past through black economic empowerment and affirmative action. He made his famed I am an African speech and sparred with politicians and social commentators about race. I, for my part, will not keep quiet while others whose minds have been corrupted by the disease of racism, accuse us, the black people of South Africa, Africa and the world, as being, by virtue of our Africanness and skin colour -- lazy, liars, foul-smelling, diseased, corrupt, violent, amoral, sexually depraved, animalistic, savage -- and rapist, he wrote in his ANC ­column. He surrounded himself with the countrys best brains: legal adviser Mojanku Gumbi and policy chief Joel Netshitenzhe; he co-opted Azapo leader Mosibudi Mangena to Cabinet. Back then, blacks were running the country, a Mbeki confidant said. Yet in 2004 Mbeki still lamented that race was not talked about enough. I ... pray that sooner rather than later, all of us, South Africans of all races, will dare to drag racism ... into the arena of public discussion, he wrote. Zuma has appointed Trevor Manuel, Pravin Gordhan, Barbara Hogan, Ebrahim Ebrahim, Ebrahim Patel and Jeremy Cronin to his executive, reviving old fears. Now we are seeing a reversal, said the Mbeki confidant. People like [SACP deputy secretary Jeremy] Cronin have become the brains in the ANC. But, he said, the leadership of the ANC will always be in black hands. That is the primacy of African leadership. The question is, do we allow black people to run the ANC or do we allow the minorities to run the party?