What makes a born-free spout such bile?

2013-06-02 14:00

Phumlani Mfeka is a racist. And not the garden-variety racist who sits around monotone dinner tables spouting prejudice.

He is the real deal, as we saw in the letter he wrote last week to Newcastle Mayor Afzul Rehman, who had objected to traffic cops disparagingly calling him a “Gupta”.

In it, he told Indians to go back to India and said the “existence” of Mahatma Gandhi and other Indians was an offence to Africans. Put him in a uniform and you’ve got yourself a modern Idi Amin or an Interahamwe militia man right there.

Amin was Uganda’s crazed leader who sent its entire Asian merchant class packing, while the Interahamwe were the shock troops of the Rwandan genocide.

Mfeka’s views are popular. Search his Twitter feed and his Facebook page to see just how popular.

Some say he’s a tenderpreneur fighting for a slice of the pie. Perhaps he is incensed by Indian wealth and Guptagate got to him.

Perhaps in his view, President Jacob Zuma, voted into power by a KwaZulu-Natal cabal, is too cosy with the Guptas, Reddys and Shaiks – three families who have all done extraordinarily well from their friendships with Number One.

Who knows what motivates genocidaires, ethnic cleansers and racists? It’s usually a cocktail of bile, mixed in with unmet expectations and poverty – either of thought, stomach or opportunity.

Would you rather not know about it? Would you rather your media was a bland rainbow nation consensus of love and fresh air, while the fire and rage against inequality is easily lit by people like Mfeka on social networks? What if they don’t immolate only themselves?

We like to kid ourselves and insist that the media reflect back to us something we are not.

That certainly seems the consensus of the punditocracy. They say City Press was wrong to publish it, as we are a “credible” platform.

Instead, they seem to say, we should leave this racism to burble in the cosy worlds of consensus that are Mfeka’s Mayibuye African Forum, the varied Facebook groups and Twitter feeds of those who agree with him.

To my mind, that’s when you make it really dangerous. We published it in the cause of antiracism.

Mfeka must have his views held up to the cold light of constitutional and historical scrutiny, as Kay Sexwale did in the same edition.

I am happy he has been reported to the SA Human Rights Commission, which has made a racist or two think twice – it’s a good outcome from publishing his piece.

I hope the commission sends Mfeka to Rwanda or even to the Apartheid Museum to learn about hatred on the one hand and ubuntu on the other.

I hope we learn what has made him hate so, and why a young man of the born-free generation knows so very little of our past and cares so very ­little about our future.

I hope the commission does not shoot the messenger. For the umpteenth time, I’ve learnt that many South Africans mouth platitudes about a “free media”, but really want us to be a Gulf News, the media platform of record in the Emirates, or Singapore’s New Straits Times.

These are both beautiful, quality newspapers and news websites, but they operate within an accepted or imposed system of self-censorship.

There are a range of views in both, but never out of the bounds set by law or convention. They are part of the national order and align their views with the state. In this, they are key to national identity.

Perhaps this works in homogenous societies, but it is not what Mzansi signed up for. We, the media, are also key to national identity and reflect a raucous young democracy. Surely this is a good thing?

Our media is robust and comes from a different tradition. We did not simply publish Mfeka’s piece in an unmediated and irresponsible fashion. We had a well-thought-out ­rationale.

I get pieces of varying shades of racism every week and toss them because they are garden variety and serve no purpose other than to spread bile.

This time, it revealed a popular (or populist) thread and pointed to an adverse outcome of cronyism, as amplified in the Guptagate saga. It was an act of outing, not of endorsement.

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