Don't demonise white people's feelings about Tumi

The debate surrounding Tumi Morake’s comments on Jacaranda FM about race is born out of conflicting sentiments in our politics that is alive under black and white people respectively.

We are hearing a rhetoric of retribution on a daily basis from the likes of Julius Malema and increasingly also from the ANC.

It is a desire for revenge and retribution. A stereotyping of all white people as rich, cold bullies and all black people as poor, helpless victims. An irritation with the reconciliation politics of former president Nelson Mandela and a continued insistence on a new phase of the revolution - a radical phase with radical economic transformation.

It is alive and strong under the black middle class and can best be described as a feeling of impatience with what they perceive to be the slow pace of transformation, and corruption. This impatience and anger about mismanagement often translate into retribution rhetoric.

Those South Africans on the receiving end quite simply feel threatened and become angry when they are confronted with this rhetoric. This is the average Jacaranda FM listener.

Some people are of the opinion that organisations such as AfriForum and Solidarity are deliberately stoking the anger amongst people on the receiving end. That is not the case. The furious reaction was there before AfriForum and Solidarity gave content to the debate.

Something I always tell the people I work with, is that radio is a highly personal medium. People see the radio presenter as a guest in their homes with whom they’re having a conversation. When that guest makes an argument that goes against the grain of what they believe, it provokes a furious response.

This is exactly what happened here. It was a spontaneous response from people who felt offended.

Commentators like Max du Preez and The Huffington Post’s Pieter du Toit are quick to say that AfriForum and Solidarity are sowing division.

It is ironic that the dismissal of people on the receiving end of Tumi’s discriminatory comments closely resembles how the white apartheid government treated the outrage of black people. Their anger was simply dismissed as the product of ANC or Communist activism, instead of being engaged with.

The important lesson is therefore that these debates cannot be solved by scapegoating certain people. It has to be done through constructive debate. I believe that race relations at grass root level are much better than at elite level. By elite level I refer to the upcoming middle and upper classes, as well as the political elite. Here the retribution rhetoric often becomes the very reason for their existence, of their wealth and their power, while at grass roots our race relations are in much better shape.

It is important not to demonise and relativise people’s spontaneous reactions from the outset. People like Du Preez and Du Toit immediately decide who the guilty parties are without engaging the issue.

There is no orchestrated campaign. It is not bully tactics. It is simply the sentiments of many South Africans out there that somehow has to be channelled into a structure to pave the way for new conversations in order for us to move forward as a country.

- Willie Spies is the legal spokesperson for AfriForum and manager of Pretoria FM. He comments in his personal capacity.

Disclaimer: 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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