Just say ‘sorry’

2016-04-26 06:00

IN our country, things happen that often cause outrage.

Then someone offers a half-hearted apology that can be even more infuriating than the original act.

South Africans seem to have become accustomed to being treated badly and having our collective intelligence undermined.

Only occasionally is there public backlash for the nonsensical explanations people give to us for behaving badly. Other times we groan and move on.

President Jacob Zuma recently apologised for the “frustration and confusion” caused by the upgrades at his Nkandla home. In response to the Constitutional Court judgment on the powers of public protector, Zuma said with the benefit of hindsight, there were many matters that could have been handled differently.

With regard to the most damning aspect of the judgment, Zuma said he “never knowingly or deliberately set out to violate the Constitution”.

This was not an apology for the wastage of money on the upgrades, and the subsequent farcical processes to dodge accountability for the project, or for the damage the Nkandla saga caused to our institutions, including Parliament.

The president knew that he could walk away from the saga by offering a superficial apology.

The speaker of Parliament, Baleka Mbete, who now appears to have designs on the presidency herself, could not even be bothered to apologise for her part in the Nkandla matter.

The National Assembly was also found to have acted inconsistently with the Constitution and unlawfully. But Mbete said she did not know what she had to apologise for.

Sorry does seem to be the hardest word.

In January, estate agent Penny Sparrow caused a public storm by describing black beachgoers as monkeys in a Facebook post.

In response to the mass outrage, Sparrow set out to explain and justify her comments, saying she had been merely “stating the facts”.

“I am sorry that it has taken such a viral turn, but it was just a statement of how it was. I made the mistake of comparing them [black people] with monkeys. Monkeys are cute and they’re naughty, but they [black people] don’t see it that way, but I do because I love animals,” Sparrow said in an interview with News24.

“I wasn’t being nasty or rude or horrible, but it’s just that they [black people] make a mess.”

In another Facebook post, she apologised to those who had taken her comments “personally”, asserting that she was “not racial” and regularly performed acts of charity “for underprivileged people of all races”.

Clearly, Sparrow did not understand the depth of her insult or her prejudice. She also did not know how to offer a sincere apology.

This week we were treated to another public apology by Cell C chief executive Jose dos Santos.

In an interview with Cliff Central, Dos Santos unleashed a torrent of sexist remarks. “I’m hoping that one day when I step down from Cell C, a woman will be the CEO of the company … If I can use the term on your radio station, you know women do have a bitch switch, and boy if you see two women fighting it is worse than two men.”

He commended the role good-looking women had on men in the workplace, saying their presence made man dress better and shave every morning.

When the chauvinism was pointed out, Dos Santos said he apologised “if I have offended anyone”.

Clearly, he did not fully understand his offence. Since then Dos Santos has been on a damage-control mission.

In subsequent media interviews, he continued to comment on the beauty of women and claimed his comments were taken out of context as he wanted to promot­e women “working closer together”.

South Africa has many social and economic needs, greater accountability and higher quality leaders in all spheres.

But it wouldn’t it be great if we had an eject button for anyone who offers an insincere, half-baked apology when “I’m really sorry” will do?

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