The F-word: Facts sometimes distort the truth

2013-10-28 10:00

One of the most important journalistic lessons I learnt was at the feet of former editor, trainer and activist Mathatha Tsedu, who warned of the danger of using facts to distort the real story.

Two self-serving arguments get raised from time to time to do just that. One is taking a head count of the number of black people and women in an organisation and on that score alone deciding that it is “transformed” or, if the numbers don’t tally with expectations, condemning them for not being transformed.

This is not to say that numbers don’t matter in the transformation debate, they do. But that alone can’t be enough.

What should matter more than counting how many people have the right pigmentation and body parts are the mind-sets.

Take, for example, the apartheid Bantustan leader Stella Sigcau, who later served as a Cabinet minister.

Sigcau would, by the present-day narrow definition of transformation, be deemed a perfect candidate for an organisation’s transformation credentials.

The former homeland leader would, by today’s standards, be considered a better transformation candidate than, say, Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, a white male Afrikaner who after deep reflection opted out of a system that he had, and could still have, benefited from.

So let nobody fool themselves and think that black necessarily means transformed and white means conservative, although our history does allow for the conclusion that one often follows the other.

The other self-serving argument we have heard and have read about is over whether blacks can be racist.

But what that answer hides, in this country – and indeed in the history of encounters between black and white people – is that white racism had devastating effects on black people and all others who were not Caucasian.

The aborigines of Australia and New Zealand, native Americans and, of course, Africans, have all felt the effects of white supremacy.

As things stand, nowhere in the world are white people as a group oppressed or suppressed by black people as a group. So the argument over whether blacks can be racist is, at best, theoretical and, at worst, pointless – even if the answer is in the affirmative.

If we ask whether it is possible for women to abuse men, we would have a factual answer, but like the question on blacks and racism, the answer will distort the real story, which is that it is generally men who are more likely to be the perpetrators than the victims.

The reason there is a fervent effort for entertaining this argument so heartily is to put the real victims and survivors of racism, black people, on the back foot when it comes to discussing race and racism.

We spend inordinate amounts of time and energy on a fact and, in the process, distort the real story.

The reality is that most black people have an inferior quality of life in all facets of their lives, be it in their education, their health services, housing, and employment and business opportunities – mainly because of white racism and its aftereffects.

Instead of confronting this fact, we have the beneficiaries and apologists of white racism seeking to make a big deal of the fact that some black people also suffer the delusion that they are of superior stock to other human beings.

Even more disturbing is the tendency to bully victims of racism into silence, just because the beneficiaries of racism are uncomfortable engaging meaningfully with the real blight on humanity’s conscience.

The fight against racism will not be won by silencing the victims. The same goes for the debate about transformation being just about head counts.

Only real and genuine reflection will take us to the next level of cohesion and nationhood – that is, if we are serious about being a nation in the first place.

»?This is the last F-Word in City Press. I thank City Press editor Ferial Haffajee for the opportunity and am particularly thankful to those readers who took the time to show me the folly of some of my thoughts. I have learnt a lot from all of you. I am moving to Pretoria News as executive editor.

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