I have been a news24 reader and very occasional commenter for almost a year now. I was from the start both fascinated and horrified by the debates that rage in the comments section. It is the ultimate expression of freedom of speech and is a sign of a good democracy. And yet at the same time its not. As time passes the debates are becoming more and more vitriolic
and the opinions expressed more and more extreme. Open racism and hatred for others of differing race, sexuality and especially religious persuasion are more and more frequently being expressed. Taken to its extreme this is not good for our country.
Freedom of speech and expression has always been one of the more difficult fundamental rights in any democracy. This is because it comes with responsibilities attached. it is not just the right to stand up and state your case at the top of your voice. It is also the responsibility to tolerate and support the right of another to stand and express a viewpoint that fills you with abhorrence at the top of his voice. It requires a citizen to practice a level of civilisation ( not really the word I was looking for.) that is quite simply beyond the skillset of most saffas, black white and khaki. For differing reasons we all have a skewed perception of democracy once emotion comes into it. In the cold light of day we can talk the talk of
democracy but when emotions run high we are unable to walk the walk.
Most of the debates in this forum would result in violence if actually held in person. Either the commentators simply do not realise or care that their comments are hurtfull and personally insulting or they do know and in fact are being deliberately inflammatory (we call this latter group trolls) Either way we are relying on the anonymity and physical safety provided by the forum to get away with our comments without having to take the feelings of others into account.
In an established and robust democracy this would not be such a bad thing but in Mzansi it is creating an awfull lot of bad blood and doing the spirit of reconcilliation immeasurable harm. Simple misunderstandings and differences of opinion are boiling over into hatred fuelled arguments that leave both sides with residual feelings of ill will toward the other and their groupings. Frustrations over political intractibility and poor education grow into hatred and scorn. We are raising racists (black and white) amongst the born-frees right here in this forum.
If one can assume that no-one here has anything to gain from civil war and a descent into anarchy then its safe to assume that it is in our own best interests to modify our perception of freedom of speech to suit our young fragile democracy.
By all means say your say, but say it as though your are in the same room as the others with the differing viewpoint. Say it as though you are related by blood to those whos opinions you would alter. Be gentle in your explanations to those less educated than yourself of how (in your opinion) their version of things is flawed. Remonstrate with love not arrogance as though differing with your wife not a stranger.
We need also to read the comments and opinions of others with understanding of their point of departure. It is easy to rubbish someone else's concerns about waste of public funds if you do not pay tax yourself, it's also dishonest. It is insensitive to complain loudly about crime, ascribing it to people who in actual fact are themselves victims of more crime than you are.
If we can do this we can debate our way to a better future for all of us.
The alternative is too ghastly to contemplate.
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