Guest Column

'It's hard being black in SA': A response to Max du Preez

2015-09-22 08:55

Bo Mbindwane

Last week veteran journalist and columnist Max du Preez opined in his column on News24 that there were serious questions in the public domain as to whether the ANC would ever relinquish power should it ever lose elections.

He also asked another important follow-up questioning whether the ANC was capable of a coup d’etat.

These questions Du Preez answered in hypotheses and innuendo coloured with language that left many of his readers commenting beneath his column. Some displayed typical racist trolling and negativity over the ANC, pointing out that Du Preez was wrong - the coup d’etat was possible.

It is now history that I penned a response to Du Preez’s article and challenged him, saying his opinions smacked of “swaart gevaar” and the disbelief that was also exhibited by Margaret Thatcher calling a likely ANC government an idea born out of "cloud cuckoo land".

I strongly objected to the premise and the hypothesis itself as serving only old stereotypes.

The ANC, of course, has lost many elections in local government and has lost the Western Cape provincial elections since the time of Hernus Kriel in 1994. The fact that Du Preez did not mention this in his arguments examining the possibility of a coup d’etat bothered me greatly.

After my article Du Preez went to social media to demand a retraction and said I had attributed wrong quotes to him.

I only quoted du Preez once in my article where I paraphrased his assertion that the only time the ANC could stage a coup was in 2024. This he wrote in his assessment of a situation where the ANC refused to give over power.

My article spoke of how the black body was injured by such articles, how painful it was to continuously be reminded you are black and how the worst of acts must be questioned about you.

Black people across the world go through a life feeling that white people, even those who wouldn't hurt a fly, can be very cruel on a daily basis.

Some, if not the majority of whites, do not carry on this way knowingly. It has been part of life. It’s the way things are. Unconsciously the black body gets ill-treated, abused, looked down upon and simply suppressed.

Those of us who have a voice are duty bound to sensitise our fellow countrymen to understand that some of the acts they do are, in fact, racist and injurious.

After saying this, we hope the perpetrator will take a step back, will not argue and will hear the victim out.

Unfortunately victims of racism are shut down, told to keep quiet or told they are playing a game - a card game, the trump card being the “race card”.

The use of the term “race card” is offensive, racist and harmful. It aims to shut the victim down, rob the victims of a voice whilst delegitimising their complaint as worthless. Black lives are not a game, there is no trump card. There are real experiences of abuse, oppression and there are great anxieties.

It is not easy to live in a black skin across the world and I can speak of my own experiences here. It is hard to be black in South Africa to this very day.

The hardship is racism. Blacks are regarded as “black savages”, “coup plotters”, “thieves”, “backward”, “lazy” and “corrupt” among many other very negative stereotypes.

If in the mind of a writer a question arises to ask whether the ANC can stage a coup d’etat or not, I pause to ask, but why is this question even arising? Why is it developed into a widely distributed column, written apparently for a white audience by a white writer? The simple answer to this is:  “Oh dear, it's a black government after all”.

The questions Du Preez was posing can be interpreted as asking if blacks are capable of being in a civilised democracy. Are blacks law abiding? After all, the ANC represents not just individuals but a collective whose greatest majority are blacks.

This is a takeaway by blacks of which I am a member. Although I cannot claim to talk for the general body of “my people”, I am able to offer a good feel on how the Du Preez hypothesis would be read by the overwhelming majority of blacks.

Laws have been passed, with our Constitution being supreme, abolishing all discrimination. However discrimination persists and suppresses the black body.

It now operates in a form of economic, media and education segregation. This combination leads to many writers and the media being desensitised about what they publish. It should be a simple thing to settle if one person says you have offended them and have racially stereotyped them.

Explicitly racism is gone, however, the victims of racism are still the experts in identifying racial undertones where they exist, be it consciously or unconsciously.

A hypothesis about such events as a coup d’etat would not have arisen had this government been white-led.

For a people who have openly forgiven whites over apartheid crimes, offered reconciliation and who, largely, did not get embraced back, it truly comes, as not just a surprise, but a disappointment that an analysis such as that written by Du Preez will even be published.

What will, in fact, disturb South Africa's democracy is the fast-eroding reconciliation concept.

Blacks are largely becoming reconciliation-fatigued and that is why parties like EFF are rising. The service delivery strikes and associated violence is not an indictment of the ANC, but of the reconciliation concept. Those who seek to use these events and to fuel them are only fuelling a very dangerous part of our transition into a fair country.

Hypotheses need not be condescending and stereotypical. Neither are they supposed to be inappropriate nor out of step. A choice is made to look down upon a group and to opine from lofty towers.

South Africans must be curious enough to know what it is that is an insult to the other, what it is that irks or invokes the memory of awful apartheid times. The arrogance by some writers that they have a right to even offend is not conducive for creating a nation.

Had a fair attempt been made to get closer to knowing the humans who vote for the ANC, not just by access to its leaders, Du Preez' questions simply would not arise. It would never be something whites would need to ask and evaluate unless indeed the learned culture of “swart gevaar” - the fear of a “black savage”- still exists and needs period calming.

Questions, such as those interrogated by Du Preez, arise when racial stereotyping is nursed and accepted as valid. Answering these questions validates them.

A serious writer that takes time to answer the most ridiculous, racially charged fear-mongering question only gives the matter credibility, evidenced by the type of public comments accompanying Du Preez’s article.

The very sense of the question demeans all of us who put so much into building a winning nation.

Many South Africans since the dawn of our democracy purport not to see my black skin any more. They don't see colour. Suddenly my race, which mattered so much, no longer does. These people rely instead on covert skill to push the racism agenda.

I stand by my removed article which rebutted the original Du Preez article.

I insist that there remains a whiff of racism directed at blacks in most of South Africa's news stories and denying this is not assisting our democracy. Stories like those by Du Preez will always find a ready audience.

There should be no place in our media for any written work that channels negative stereotypes. We must not ignore racial bias in stories and arguments.

Read: 'Why we need to isolate the peddlers of hate'

News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.


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