The tweet that rocked SA

2014-11-10 13:45

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Cassandra Gudlhuza and Gareth Cliff join the debate in the aftermath of the tweet that caused all the trouble: Who paid for this massive funeral for #SenzoMeyiwa?

Cassandra Gudlhuza

Shock jock Gareth Cliff has done it again. He’s managed – in under 140 characters – to wire a single thought through social media that swiftly got the greater (black) population abuzz, and some with their undies in a knot.

At the most inopportune of moments, Cliff tweeted to ask who was footing the bill for slain Bafana Bafana goalkeeper Senzo Meyiwa’s grand provincial funeral.

A few moments before I saw the tweet, someone in my household made a light-hearted remark about Meyiwa’s sendoff, saying it seemed a bit “like we are burying Mandela once again”. I laughed.

After all, he’s a tax-paying citizen who is well within his rights to question anything in the public domain, especially if it is done with public money.

In my humble opinion, the problem here was not the tweet itself. It was the tone, the thought behind it – as if it were designed to cause a wave.

Cliff is also aware he walks a thin line with the greater public when airing his views on government and how it deals with dead public figures. Like the time Cliff uttered his immortal line: that it was “good riddance” that controversial former health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang had died. Yet he posted the Meyiwa tweet, only to feign shock at the outcry.

As expected, Cliff was rapidly given the label of shameless, brazen racist. Countless people went at him. Popular public figures like Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula entered the fray and Cliff was his characteristically unapologetic self.

Now having been personally exposed to Cliff through my former career in entertainment journalism, I can attest to the fact that I’ve always secretly branded him a bit of a douche. This was for no reason other than that every time I interviewed him, I had to introduce myself and make like it was the first time. Every time. That man punctured my ego to the core, dammit!

But with my petty issues against Cliff to one side, I got thinking about the public outcry over his tweet. Sure, a lot of people are upset, and have sufficient reason to be, I guess. But are we absolutely sure we are not perhaps confusing issues and isms here?

Have we arrived at a point where people who are rude cannot be seen just as rude without them being universally branded as racists?

Isn’t it true that it is Cliff’s very causticity that got him the “shock jock” title and resulted in his many professional engagements?

If one takes the time to look into his interactions online or during his broadcasting career, one is sure to find he’s been discourteous to many other people, not just black people, or dead people for that matter.

In fact, Cliff recently posted some off-colour stuff about Pistorius – to less reaction, of course, because of the obvious fact that Pistorius had fallen out of public favour. Is there no evidence at all to show Cliff’s discrimination doesn’t discriminate?

Me thinks there are a few clear examples.

Comparing him to the rightfully contemptible likes of Verwoerd doesn’t feel just or appropriate. Cliff hasn’t said or done enough to justify the comparison.

Inasmuch as racism should be fought with fire and not diminished when it is real, society must also remember that it would be unfortunate to have a situation where the “racist” designation is used as a blanket to cover all societal and personal afflictions.

Without wanting to come across as the Roux to Cliff’s Oscar, I do believe that there are a few isms that exist outside of racism that we can choose from to describe Cliff.

Some may even say he suffers from sporadic “idiotism” for his lack of tact and timing (like in both instances when offering commentary about people who had recently died).

Because of my “history” with Cliff, I will personally remain at “narcissism” for now, until I spot very definitive signs of racism.

Gudlhuza is managing partner at communications agency BlackCumin.

Mourners at the funeral service of football hero Senzo Meyiwa, which took place at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban last Saturday. Picture: Reinhardt Hartzenberg

Gareth Cliff

Senzo Meyiwa was laid to rest a week ago, but the hubbub around my question on Twitter about his funeral refuses to die down – “Who paid for this massive funeral for #SenzoMeyiwa?”

The past few days have elicited an extraordinary response from many South Africans – some outraged, some hateful, some thoughtful and some supportive. The messages have ranged from positive to negative, but they have opened an opportunity for dialogue and understanding – which is how we take this discussion up a level.

Whether or not you like insensitive whites asking poorly timed questions, or you compare me to Hendrik Verwoerd or Steve Hofmeyr, you have to admit there are things we need to talk about. If me being white or you being black is a factor that counts either of us out of the discussion, then we’re in a lot of trouble.

I’m disturbed but not surprised by outright racism and bigotry – there’s a lot of anger in this country. We pretend to get along some of the time – until something awful happens or someone decides to take offence at something in the news.

We need to go deeper though – to start understanding each other – and the bad news is it won’t be comfortable.

Some black people think all whites are right wing devils who put on a show but eventually reveal their real, racist feelings – by being patronising or using language that is imperious.

This may be true for some white people, but there are a great many of us who actually really aren’t racists – who don’t use the K-word, who don’t criticise the government because they think black people can’t do the job, and who aren’t proud of their colonial past.

White people need to appreciate that what may seem to them a question of fact, can make a black person read all sorts of indirect racism and cultural prejudice that cannot be dismissed.

We need to talk about our feelings. But we can’t be emotional in our reactions. Once we start to understand each other’s point of view, there’s a way to turn every cause for conflict into a chance for conciliation.

My mistake was to ask “Who’s paying for this massive funeral for #SenzoMeyiwa?” without considering the timing, or how many millions of people could misinterpret the question as something mean-spirited.

But the question stands, and it has still not been answered satisfactorily.

I didn’t ask it to be provocative or because I was seeking attention. I tweet all the time – and I’m sure I’ve said many more offensive things than that.

Other people were asking the same question, but maybe nobody saw their tweets. Whatever the responses, I’m pretty sure I didn’t deserve “One settler, one bullet”, “F**k you, Gareth, you racist pink pig” or “You and Steve Hofmeyr are the same black-hating peas in a pod”.

If you think those reactions are appropriate, then I doubt we would have a lot in common. But I will still defend your right to say horrible things.

Tasteless remarks about Kelly Khumalo, and unkind messages about Senzo’s dad with his arms outstretched, have polluted the social-media timelines of many of us over the past few days. Instead of asking tough questions, we look for scapegoats and distractions.

Instead of being sad about Senzo, many people preferred to get angry and nasty – to what avail?

Who paid for Senzo’s funeral? You did – and I did. RIP Senzo.

Cliff is an online radio host at CliffCentral and a judge of SA Idols.

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