We must stand up to the bullies

2010-01-17 08:13

IT WAS typically hectic

­Friday afternoon traffic. I sighed with relief when I reached the big

intersection and went into the “left turn only” lane – I was heading home ­after

a long day.

Just then a taxi driver cut in front of me from the right lane and

stopped some 20m before the traffic light. His passengers were getting out

slowly and new ones were queuing up to get in. I was now stuck and helplessly

saw the traffic light turn green and red and green and red with no


So I put my palm on my car’s hooter and let rip. The taxi driver

got out very slowly and came walking over to me. “What’s your problem, you white

piece of s..t?” he asked threateningly at my door.

By now the traffic had backed up for more than a street block. I

looked the miserable soul in the face and then it dawned on me: we have too many

bullies in our society.

Those taxi drivers who do what they want, who aggressively

intimidate other motorists and treat their passengers with complete contempt are

a metaphor of what is wrong with us South Africans. We allow ourselves to be

bullied. Like ­Zimbabweans have allowed themselves to be bullied by Robert

Mugabe and his Zanu-PF thugs for more than a ­decade now.

Before 1994 the bullies were the brutal and nasty security

policemen, the Gideon Nieuwoudts and Eugene de Kocks and their political

masters, men such as PW Botha, Louis le Grange and Adriaan Vlok.

PW Botha was such a bully that his own cabinet, with some decent

men in it, didn’t dare stand up to his ­madness – not even an outspoken

“verligte” like Pik Botha. Ordinary good white South Africans voted for PW

election after ­election, knowing well he was not good for the country.

There are quite a few white bullies still around – violent, ugly

men in the workplace and on farms who want to hide their own moral and

intellectual inferiority behind a facade of racism. We should stand up to them,

smoke them out and see to it that their backsides are thrown in jail for a long


But there has been no shortage of a new brand of political bully

since we became a democracy. Thabo Mbeki was the puppetmaster of ­several

bullies who did his bullying for him: men and women who steamrolled anyone who

dared raise a question or a criticism or ­appeared to become too popular ­inside

the ANC. His critics were called settlers or servants of settlers and those who

appeared to challenge his power were framed or subjected to the attentions of

the security and judicial establishments.

The former head of news at the SABC, Snuki Zikalala, was a typical

bully from the Mbeki era. He ruled by fear, treated the public broadcaster like

a private fiefdom and single-handedly chased away several of the country’s top

journalists. He has to carry a large deal of the blame for the implosion at the


Bullying has increased since the Polokwane putsch. Bully tactics

were used to kick Mbeki out of the presidency and purge the ANC of his most

prominent supporters.

The ANC Youth League’s Julius Malema and his sidekick, Floyd

Shivambu, are the nation’s bullies-in-chief right now. They don’t debate or

lobby; they don’t engage or argue; they shout and scream and insult and

threaten. Some say they are guilty of blatant political blackmail.

So far it has worked well for them. Malema and his cronies have

­become a formidable force wielding extraordinary power over local, ­regional

and even national politicians. Malema is where he is today because the ANC top

brass allowed him to bully them into submission. He and his cronies are guilty

of ­excesses that went completely against the political culture of the ANC, but

no-one had the guts to stand up to them.

And when the South African Communist Party eventually did stand up

to Malema, his little bubble was burst. He ran crying to the president like a

schoolboy who had been slapped in the playground. Suddenly “Juju” was no longer

the big, strong man of South African politics, but just a common bully.

One of Malema’s mentors, Deputy Police Minister Fikile Mbalula, and

Police Commissioner Bheki Cele ­also seem to believe that shouting, cursing and

threatening are better than simply solving the problem. “Kill the bastards!”

they shout every time a television camera is pointed their way, but the only

bastards that keep on suffering are ordinary citizens who fall victim to crime.

In fact, far too many of our policemen use bullying tactics against

­citizens and especially visitors from elsewhere in Africa, as was demonstrated

during recent events at Beit Bridge border post. And then we have the violence

and intimidation of foreign nationals by ordinary ­citizens during the outbreaks

of xenophobic violence.

We ordinary citizens should do to all bullies what was done to

­Malema: stand up to them, boo them, unmask them and ­isolate them from


It is time for decency and rationality to return to our national


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