City Press 30: The black snake debate

2012-03-15 09:42

To celebrate thirty years of City Press, we feature gems from our archive.

“Who does she think she is. This Ferial Haffajee,” Eric Miyeni tweeted on Monday, this after writing “Who the devil is she anyway if not a black snake in the grass, deployed by white capital to sow discord among blacks?

“In the Eighties, she’d probably have had a burning tyre around her neck.”

This is who I am.

I’ve never put a tyre around anybody’s neck, but my school friends and I let out the air of the tyres of people we regarded as sellouts – the men co-opted into the Tricameral Parliament for coloureds and Indians.

We boycotted classes and helped create an atmosphere of intimidation that ensured that despite the spin of the apartheid order, the particularly loathsome campaign to sow discord among blacks did not happen.

At university, I disrupted the public talks of visiting lecturers whom our student formations called right wing. “No free speech in an abnormal society” was the dictum, though I’m not sure it was the correct action.

Still, the power of the crowd is seductive. On the same campus, we watched aghast on a day of protest as some students decided that there was an impimpi among us and tried to necklace the man.

I will forever respect Xolela Mangcu for getting that man to safety and for calming the crowd. But for the wisdom of our leaders, it was easy to end up on the other side of a box of matches because traitors and infiltrators were everywhere. They earned the contempt.

It’s been a week balanced on the trapeze between traitor and patriot. At the end of the week, I embrace the identity of patriot.

All week, Eric Miyeni and his patron, ANC Youth League president Julius Malema, have tried to paint a picture of a traitorous woman uncomfortable with black advancement. If I may, another short history lesson.

At the Financial Mail, tired of colleagues and a private sector decrying the absence of black talent, my then colleague, William Gumede, and I went out to find it, editing and publishing the first edition of the Little Black Book. Now more than a decade old, it is a bible of black achievement across the private, public and civic sectors.

My talent is talent-spotting, so at the Mail & Guardian we started the Book of South African Women, which had the same purpose as the Little Black Book. It showcased female leaders to an industry complaining that it couldn’t find any.

Then came the publication of Young South Africans You Must Take To Lunch, the one I am perhaps most fond of because it is a blueprint for tomorrow, a mesmerising guide to our nation’s potential. The purpose of each publication was the same – to tell the story of a new society that was advancing a new generation.

Next, I’ll do South Africa’s World Class, a look at those South Africans who have cracked the global stage in all sectors. When last I looked at my list of potential candidates, it was already way too long. How inspiring that was for me!

What’s your history, Eric – beyond the anger and the vituperation? What have you broken and what have you built?
Malema called me a counter-revolutionary on radio this week because, I guess, he is getting uncomfortable with the spotlight we are shining on his mystery moolah.

If the revolution is about self-aggrandisement and populism; if it is about a complete disjuncture between substance and form, between words and actions; if it is about talking nationalisation while living off the profits of privatisation; then who is the real counter-revolutionary?

My colleagues and I consider ourselves critical patriots – if our research is correct, so do you, our readers. The research shows that you largely support the ANC in your political affiliation and, in almost the same numbers, are concerned about corruption and its omnipotence.

Yet read Miyeni’s view of how things should be. This is what he wrote in the Sowetan: “And let’s say Malema does have a family trust, that the trust is funded by black business people ... (who) made their fortune through government tenders. What the hell is wrong with that?”

What’s wrong with that is that it’s a textbook definition of corruption and cronyism. It creates yet another uneven playing field for small businesses because who they know is more important than what they know, and it means that politicians end up taking a chunk of the profits that would be better served as reinvestment to increase black capital.

Are these donations or rents? Are the business people pouring money into the trust merely possessed of big hearts, or are they being shaken down, mafia style? What do they get in return?

We know, Eric, that capital is capital. No investment is made without a purpose.

I’m glad we started the debate about the kind of society we want to live in. We have yet to answer the question of who’s the traitor and who’s the patriot?

Sticks and stones may break your bones, and words carelessly strewn on paper can break your heart, I found out this week. But words can also heal.

The South African way is to accept an apology. The Sowetan’s was fulsome, so it would be churlish of me to file a lawsuit. I won’t. Eric Miyeni is out of work and I don’t have two court years to spare.

But sadly, Miyeni and I have no outcome founded on the values of ubuntu. He believes it was his right to write; I believe he flirted with misogyny and engaged in inflammatory hate speech – it was a verbal fatwa.

For this reason, I will make a formal complaint to the Human Rights Commission or Public Protector to put this painful episode to rest.

– City Press, August 6 2011

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