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SA Debates: Marred by intolerance and appetites for respect

20 November 2012, 10:38

Some  years  ago  a  Nigeria-born  American  writer  by  the  name  Niyi Taiwo  penned  an  inspiring  book  about respect . Titled  The  Top  Ten  Laws  of  Respect,  this  270 something  paged  book  preaches  to  the  reader  the  importance  of  respect  within  families  and  in  life  in general.

In this book Taiwo also brings to the attention of the reader the important space that respect occupies in African cultures. To elaborate on this aspect, he draws from his childhood experiences as a young boy growing up in an extended family in Nigeria.

It’s well written and touches on very important aspects of respect.

But there is something that Taiwo’s book doesn’t say- the same goes for many other books, songs and speeches that have had a go at this concept. It says nothing about the abuse of this concept by those who don’t take criticism well. It also doesn’t say how we should respond when this concept is used to suppress our opinions.

For instance, some months ago I nearly got smacked for expressing an opinion in a debate.

It was on a Saturday afternoon at this stuffy pub somewhere in the capital. A heated debate which was sparked by a television news clip of Bushbuckridge residents who were sharing muddy dam water with animals was raging.

Some revelers, myself included, blamed the water crisis on poor leadership and corruption.

Some moments later, I said something that turned the debate sour. What started as a lively debate about the plight of the poor and the government’s role descended into a disheartening affair.

My take on the subject was that Bushbuckridge residents are at the mercy of an uncaring government, whose leaders have become increasingly insensitive to the plight of the poor. And that the only thing they are good at is lining their pockets with tax payer’s money.

Unfortunately this innocent opinion didn’t go down well with an elderly man who had been listening to us all the while.

The grey – bearded senior citizen stood up from his chair and spat on the floor in disgust before branding me a disrespectful young man who was not raised well. “Those leaders fought for your freedom” he said. And he went on and on and on.

I wished I could spar with him on this topic, but he was too worked up to be reasoned with. 

So, with my proverbial tail between my legs, I stood up and left.

This marked the end of a dialogue from which we could have all learnt a thing or two about the root causes of the Bushbuck water crisis. Who knows, maybe the dialogue could have helped us understand why our government is failing to live up to its promise of a “better life for all”. Unfortunately this wasn’t to be as free speech and tolerance lost the day to tantrums.

By using respect to silence criticism, the old - timer didn’t only rob us our freedom of expression. But he also denied himself an opportunity to make a meaningful contribution in a debate about the plight of his fellow citizens.

His reaction was hurtful, but I must say, it made me realize just how toxic the ANC’s new brand of politics is. It opened up my eyes to the undeniable fact that the ANC is not perpetuating this brand of politics for the fun of it, but to strengthen its grip on power.

This brand of politics provides that leaders and their followers should demand, not command, respect. And apart from advocating intolerance, it also provides that they should at all times go on the defensive when criticized.

The logic defying call by the KZN SACP for a Zuma law is inspired by this brand of politics.

Sadly the old man and his fellow ANC supporters seem to have bought into this nonsense.   

So the next time you think load about poor service delivery or our leaders’ incompetence, be careful because you never know who may be listening.

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