The black snake debate: Eric Miyeni

2011-08-06 11:42

South Africa, unlike most recently “liberated” countries, has done and continues to do a sterling political job for all its citizens. Yes, we have corruption, but we also have a free press that is among the most courageous in the world, backed by a strong and progressive constitution, to expose fraud and enforce sanctions on perpetrators.

In the DA, we have one of the most powerful opposition parties in the world proportionate to the votes it gets at the polls (20% at the last count), an opposition that stands without being brutalised while constantly exposing what it considers to be the flaws in our political system and in the way the ruling party operates.

There are very few countries that can boast this status quo so soon after their political emancipation.

Yes, we have crime, but we have a justice system that is unparalleled in its efficiency on the African continent.

Yes, we have businesspeople who are corrupt and corrupting; but the majority of the members of our business community across the gender, colour and age lines are trustworthy people who are doing their utmost to make an honest living.

We have a hell of a lot to be thankful for and this past week forced me to take a good look at our country and reach clarity on this.

Considering that, I was consumed with anger at what I believe is wrong with our press. And that is the constant and unending negative portrayal of black politicians and black businesspeople.

This was a big step for me.

Our work, though, is not done. The level of poverty that our nation needs to address is disturbingly high.

If this poverty was proportionately spread, and the minority groups in our midst did not have most of the country’s wealth, it would not be a problem to turn a blind eye to it.

But when the minority is unbelievably rich and the majority is incredibly poor, which is the state of our nation’s economy today, we have a problem.

As of today, of the R441?billion that the mining industry spends on operations yearly, for example, black people mainly share in the R78?billion that goes to the salaries for their cheap labour.

The balance is spent on largely white companies that employ mainly white people.

If there is any one thing I wanted to highlight in my Sowetan column last Monday, it is the fact that we need more propellers to push for the economic emancipation of South Africa’s largely black majority, and also that I believe our press can help in this regard by spending at least as much time parading black success stories as it does black stories of failure and corruption.

To the effect that this argument has finally been heard, I am eternally grateful.

But given that black South Africans have the least number of all available jobs here and are the poorest as I write this article, it is tragic that the result of my attempt at arguing quite a simple point has led to the loss of jobs for two more black people (Len Maseko lost his acting editorship position at Sowetan and now I’m also looking for employment).

Is adding to the ranks of the black unemployed really the mature way for this country to handle disagreement?

I am saddened, too, by the realisation that our nation’s collective response to what is considered an angry voice is to shut it down without listening long enough to hear what the voice is angry about.

Given that we have a history riddled with the repression of anger and silencing dissenting voices, I would have thought that we would have grown to realise that where there is an angry voice, there is a grievance and that we would attend first to the grievance and then to the tone.

Julius Malema once said: “We did not fight for freedom in order to be told how to speak.” What this means to me is that we should not shut people down because we do not like their tone of speech or diction.

Given that it has not been long since we lived through a time when the sentence for the wrong tone of voice in the wrong direction could be state-sanctioned death or frighteningly brutal and barbaric mob justice, I hope that we will learn to be more open than we seem to be and more accommodating of opposing views.

» Miyeni is an author and filmmaker whose identity was stolen on Twitter. To the 2040 people following ericmiyeni, the imposter, please unfollow him/her and follow the real Eric Miyeni who is ericmiyeni1 on Twitter

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