No excuses

2016-07-05 06:00

A FEW weeks ago, I had the misfortune of sitting in front of two rabid racists on an 11-hour flight to Frankfurt.

When I got to my seat, they were already rowdy and gushing alcohol fumes. I thought they would settle down once we took off and hoped my earphones would drown out the noise if they did not.

What ensued was hours of torture in a confined space on a full flight, kilometres above the ground.

In loud voices, the two men exchanged political views, their take on President Jacob Zuma and developments in our country since their heyday of white supremacy.

Speaking in Afrikaans, they used derogatory terms to describe black people and referred to the president as daai hond (that dog).

They continuously demanded drinks (“Klippies and Coke”) and called one of the cabin attendants a coolie when she refused to comply.

Most people within earshot of their ranting were extremely uncomfortable. The senior hostess approached the men saying she had received complaints and requested that they quieten down.

They claimed that she was lying that people had complained about them, obviously believing that the rest of us were delighted by their presence and fascinating views.

I listened to this performance, contemplating what to do about it. I knew I would be sworn at or assaulted if I said something. If what I said caused a fight, the crew would be forced to intervene and perhaps land the plane somewhere.

I could tell the crew were already in a dilemma about what to do and did not want to make the situation worse for them and everyone else on the plane.

The fact that other passengers remained silent meant that they preferred to stay in the air rather than have to make an unexpected landing in a foreign country in the middle of the night or have the plane turn back.

When the plane landed in Frankfurt, I fled as soon as I could, wanting to escape being in the men’s presence.

I do not know if the airline took action against them but it looked as if the crew were simply relieved to be rid of them.

I regret not reporting the matter but did not know whether the hate-speech complaint would have to be laid in Germany or South Africa, as most of the racist statements were made in indeterminate airspace.

My regret increased this week after a Sodwana Bay guest house owner spouted his rationale for banning black people from his establishment.

Andre Slade used the Bible to justify his racist views and claimed that God had created black people to be servants.

He told black journalists that they should call him a king.

Pointing to the hair growth pattern above his Slovakian girlfriend’s forehead, Slade claimed that white people’s royalty and superiority are evident by their “crowns”.

KwaZulu-Natal’s MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Sihle Zikalala, took the initiative to lay charges against Slade.

Addressing ANC supporters and community members who had gathered to protest Slade’s conduct, Zikalala said: “We want to make it clear that racism is not accepted in South Africa.

“We want to make it clear that racism is costly.”

Slade is seemingly unrepentant and says he will not appear in court as he does not recognise the South African Constitution.

Some people on social media say that Slade should be ignored because he cannot be sane.

Some of my friends say I should forget about the racists on the plane because they were drunk and confronting them would not have achieved anything.

But racists thrive in our society because we make excuses for their bad behaviour or choose not to act against them. There is also not enough public education about how to act against racism.

Zikalala is right that racism should be costly.

It is the most effective way to rid our society of the scourge.

• Ranjeni Munusamy is a political journalist and commentator for the Daily Maverick.


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