The F-word: Our nation’s poverty of thought

2013-08-18 14:00

It’s not often that I am stung by criticism of what I write. I tell aspirant journalists and columnists that they must never take things personally.

Many of those who say you are a great writer actually mean that they agree with you and those that say you are the worst thing since James Hadley Chase, often just mean that they disagree with you.

Hardened as I believe I am, I confess to have felt it when a reader, Othafa Odinga, argued that my position on businesswoman Khanyi Dhlomo’s loan was motivated by a desire to suck up to the state.

It has become quite common in our nation to assume that those who hold a view that is remotely in sync with the ruling establishment must be doing so because they wish to partake in the largesse and be a recipient of state patronage.

To them, the only principled and revolutionary position is to be forever on the opposite side of government, its agencies or associates.

In line with this thinking, DA leader Helen Zille is sucking up to a yet unspecified ill when she agrees with Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga as to who, between a national and a provincial minister of education, is responsible for ensuring that books arrive at schools on time.

Fortunately, it does not take long before an opportunity arises for the “whoever is not with us is against us” brigade to see the shortcomings of their binary view of life and politics.

Zille’s departure from the script stumped those used to supporting or opposing a view not on its merits but on who holds it.

To them, life is like a children’s tale where the stepmother is cruel and the stepsisters are ugly and jealous.

It follows, therefore, that they will never waste their time trying to get to the merits of a quarrel between the kind and beautiful sister and her ugly stepsister because one is always right and the other always wrong.

Those who hold binary positions are spoiled by commentators who feel the need to state they hold no brief or beef for or against an individual or an organisation.

This by not allowing for their arguments to speak for themselves regardless of what personal feelings they might have for their subjects.

One does not need a degree in social sciences to realise that human beings are complex.

In South Africa, if you are black and hold a view that is seen as remotely supportive of the state, it is decided that you hold that view because you are an ANC lackey looking for either a job or a tender.

If it is against the state, you are a coconut who wishes they were white and are happy to spit on the graves of our struggle heroes.

If you are white and hold a view different to the governing party, you are an incorrigible racist. If you side with the marginalised majority, it must be because you have taken it upon yourself to think on behalf of the “illiterate blacks”.

I find none of these postures helpful. If anything, they expose the poverty of thought in the person pretending to be contending with the issue raised.

I sometimes wonder if those who love claiming that every thought that makes them uncomfortable must have been sponsored elsewhere.

They think so because they are accustomed to others sponsoring their thoughts and assume their reality is shared.

Personally, I refuse to be caught in the narrative that picks sides as a permanent position. I would rather choose issues and allow for my arguments to live or die on the strength of their own points.

If that makes me, in the eyes of others, a sycophant, so be it.

I sleep peacefully in the knowledge that whether I think that the emperor is wearing clothes or not is wholly something my eyes must take responsibility for rather than what someone else has decided.

»?Moya is a member of the Midrand Group. Follow him on Twitter @fikelelo

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