Clemens Tönnies is the head of the supervisory board of Schalke. A position with responsibility and honour. His opinion on any issue is highly regarded and attracts attention.
Unfortunately, Tönnies latest statement at a trade and commerce meeting in Paderborn has generated a seismic shift against him. He said in clear terms, “Instead of increasing taxes, we should rather finance 20 power plants in Africa every year. Then Africans would stop cutting down trees and producing children when it’s dark.“ Interestingly, the audience applauded.
Was it a faux pas? Slip of tongue? Did he bother to comprehend the implications of the statement? Is he playing to the populist rhetoric with anti-Africa sentiments? These are questions that have not been answered. His racist tones caused a debate in Germany.
Prominent members of Schalke ranging from the legendary Gerald Asamoah and Hans Sarpei who are all from Africa were greatly disturbed by his comments. A cross-section of German society does not subscribe to his views.
Apology is not enough
Tönnies has apologised for his „foolish“ remarks to Schalke and he met the honorary board of Schalke last week to discuss the issue. The board agreed that Tönnies statement is not racist but discriminatory. It is a matter of semantics and interpretation. And based on the fallout, Tönnies has decided to step down temporarily for three months from his duties at Schalke. In the interim, it is a clever ploy to relegate media attention to something else.
Despite the statement of Schalke’s honourary board, it is glaring that Tönnies has put Schalke into disrepute. A cursory look at the mission statement of Schalke, especially numbers 8 and 9 are at variance with his conduct.
8. As Schalker we reject discrimination and violence. We show racism the red card and actively promote tolerance and fairness.
9. Our collective goal is sporting success. In pursuit of this goal, however, no one may endanger the existence of our club or violate the values set forth in this mission statement.
Tönnies is a polarising figure.
It is too early to quantify the damage of Tönnies’ statement but critics agree, it has set back the anti-racism agenda of Schalke.
Charles Huber, a former Bundestag parliamentarian for CDU, and a leading black person in Germany has quit the party. Because of remarks from the German government official responsible for Africa, Günter Nooke, who condemned Tönnies but opined that deforestation in Africa and other controversial issues on the topic should be discussed. Huber feels it is sending a wrong message to Africa and Africans in the diaspora for a leading politician with his office to make such a statement.
It is not a case of blacks or Africans overreacting to the statement of Tönnies. As at the time of writing, he has not come forward to apologise to Africans for his colonial mindset. Africans are put in a bad light.
Fighting racism is not about paying lip service to end the act or taking part in fleeting public relations projects. It is a lifestyle. I wonder if Tönnies understands the meaning of racism. He needs an education on the issue.
Tönnies should read books and policy papers on racism. A leading authority on racism in America is Ibram.X.Kendi. And he has a new book in the market titled, How to be an antiracist. kendi posits that being a racist is not a static identity. Rather, it is what someone says or does in the moment.
I welcome the solidarity of people from all races who have condemned the tirade from Tönnies. Can he listen to the wind of change?