Can a racist still be a good writer?

2010-12-18 09:31

I seemed to have caused somewhat of an uproar when I posted on a social media page that I was ready to sign up for a campaign to return to Annelie Botes the best novelist award taken away from her on account that she did not like blacks.

Some of my cyber friends thought I had gone nuts.

The apparent consensus is that the organisers of the South African Literary Awards (Sala) were entitled to change their minds and withdraw the K Sello Duiker Memorial Award they had conferred on her because Botes was an incorrigible racist.

Sala’s advisory board and its partners had said that they were concerned that Botes’ racist remarks might disgrace the awards and it was best that they withdraw the gong.

The organisation said: “Sala abhors any form of discrimination whether based on race, skin colour and gender. On the basis of the above, the Sala board therefore withdraws the award which had been conferred upon Ms Botes.”

It is heartwarming to know Sala’s views on bigotry, but it is politically-correct cowardice.

Botes did not win a Miss Congeniality contest. She did not have to be nice to black people or anyone else.

She was required to show that her book was better than others in her category.

Those who read the book, Thula Thula, gave it rave reviews.

But the excitement and applause over her award being taken away would have some people thinking that Botes had wrongly won the Nobel Peace Prize before the committee found that she was not the humanitarian it thought she was.

You would also think that some university had awarded her an honorary degree before she proved herself an embarrassment to the institution that had thought highly of her.

Let us not fool ourselves.

Annelie Botes, racist as she is, fully earned her award by her hard work and creativity.

She did not get the award because of who she is or what she believes.

Her right to the award is the ultimate personification of giving the devil her due.

Some have argued that there were better books than hers. It may very well be, but that is not the issue.

The competition she entered did not require that she not be a racist or any other kind of bigot.

The criteria before the judges were whether her book was better than the others and they found that it was.

The only reason that an award for what judges regard as excellence should be withdrawn is if they found that they misdirected themselves or were misled in coming to their conclusion.

For example, the judges must find that there was cheating by some of their numbers or that Botes plagiarised someone else’s work.

From what we have heard so far, the judges have not changed their minds about the merits of her novel.

The only thing that has changed is that they now know her politics and do not like them.We cannot have that.

Her publishers can punish her by not taking her future manuscripts if they wish.

You can stop reading her work if you were a fan.

But we cannot change that according to a process no one has yet challenged, she wrote the best South African novel of her category.

To take away her award because you have discovered something you don’t like about her is worse than to arbitrarily change the rules of the game midway through a match.

To take away her award because you don’t like her politics is to change the rules long after the final whistle has been blown.

This has nothing to do with defending racists. It is about transcending racial thinking.

It is about not making racists like Botes set our standards.I am not interested in the debate on whether we should praise or condemn Botes for her supposed honesty.

It is neither here nor there that a racist is honest about her bigotry.

This piece is also not about whether racism is to be tolerated, because it is not to be tolerated.Rather, it is about giving to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, as was the point when this statement was first made.

We don’t have to like Caesar or what he stands for to give him what is due to him.

Botes has already had more free publicity than she ever dreamt of.

To take away her award is to make her something of a hero among her fellow bigots who now believe that she is a messiah who has suffered for her art.

Most importantly, it is to insult black people by making it seem as if they need to be liked or acknowledged as fully human by some obscure writer before she can get her award.

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