Khaya Dlanga

Understanding Eric Miyeni

2011-08-02 13:40

Eric Miyeni sure lit a fire under South Africa’s collective rear end on Monday after his column about City Press editor Ferial Haffejee. His opening salvo goes as follows: “In the 80s she'd probably have had a burning tyre around her neck. We know where she comes from.” This line will make many rounds and it will probably be the only thing people remember Eric wrote.

He goes on to say: “I am more inclined to think that people like Haffajjee, who edits City Press, are most likely to be the kind that wakes up in the morning, sees their black faces in the mirror only to feel a wave of self-hatred rising up to nauseate them.” The violence with which these words were flung reminded of the 90s black on black violence. Except this time it was a pen inflicting it.

It’s hard being black. I understand where Eric is coming from. It’s not something that people who are not of colour can understand. This is not to say that white people are unable to empathise. There are many things that people who are not of colour cannot relate to. The moment, for example, you set your foot somewhere in business, your ability is already being doubted. Unless of course it’s singing. Or some sort of sport but swimming.

You go to a meeting being a black person, and you don’t get looked at because no one expects you to have much to say. They don’t direct their comments and questions towards the black person in the room until some person who knows that you make the decisions refers to you. This happens in many boardrooms in South Africa. Is it racism or is it some preconditioned thinking? I think it is preconditioned thinking, something that many South Africans need to unlearn and be conscious of.

There for a reason

When you mention these things, you are accused of having a chip on your shoulder or to get over the race thing (even though you actually experience the race thing on a daily basis).

When you start to speak, they realise that you are there for a reason. You know why you are there and you are there on merit. This is how the battle must be won. Let them doubt you, but knock them out with your excellent merit instead of screaming racism. Something that is so hard to prove. It is easier to shout racism than it is to prove your merit. Unfortunately some of our people hide behind racism.

Even Vavi has called for lifestyle audits. Does this make Vavi a self-loathing black?

Sometimes when we are overlooked, as if we don’t matter in meetings, it makes us angry. It irritates us, or it drives us out of the businesses we work in. No one can understand where Eric Miyeni’s anger is coming from. It comes from something that many people feel.

I must admit, I get a bit upset when I see yet another black person being accused of corruption, incompetency or some other crime. It is natural to feel upset. In fact, when Lolly Jackson was murdered last year, I wrote a column and said I was relieved when I found out that his killers were not black. We don’t want more bad black news.

The target of bad news

Having said that, we cannot say that reports about black people who are doing wrong should be held back, simply because we don’t want to see more bad black news. Those who hold office need to be accountable. If their parties will not hold them to account, the press must.

The ruling party often talks about being the target of bad news. Unfortunately that is how it works all over the world; the ruling parties get bad press. In Britain, during Tony Blair’s tenure as Prime Minister, Labour got the lion’s share of bad news with members of his party being exposed for one thing or another. Before that, the Conservatives who had been in power were getting the lion’s share of the bad news. It’s the nature of the beast.

Eric does have a point on the DA though. Not enough is reported about it. It is as if the party does no wrong. Or is the DA so boring that there is nothing to read about it? To be honest, I find stories about the DA boring, unless it’s got to do with some dodgy doing in the Western Cape, where it governs.

Miyeni shouldn’t have launched a personal attack on Ferial Haffajee, he should have dealt with the issues and people would have been more likely to listen to what he had to say. Although he had some good points, they got lost in the way of emotion.

I also don’t believe that he should have had his column discontinued. When Gareth Cliff said some very colourful things about Manto Msimang after she died, even though I disagreed with what he said, I believed then that he should still have his job even though many thought he should be fired. In this case, I don’t think Eric’s column should have been discontinued.

Don't use tolerance as an excuse

We cannot afford to leave accountability to political bodies. We can’t say something is acceptable or turn a blind eye because a black person does it. We shouldn't tolerate things that shouldn't be tolerated and use tolerance as an excuse. If we do so, we as black people fail ourselves.

We can’t lower our standards. We need to hold ourselves to the highest possible standards, so that we don’t blame the West and the whites. If we take responsibility, we will do better. We have to be hard on ourselves. We have a choice; we choose the easy wrong or the hard right. Let’s choose the right thing.

- Follow Khaya on Twitter.

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Read more on:    city press  |  ferial haffajee

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