Do you remember this radical and revolutionary sentiment: “Will be back for the Msunery here #OnMyTsnCs. Miss all these trembling white cowards, shem. Botha, Potgieter, Thieving Rapist descendants of Van Riebeck, etc: how are you my babies? We shall gesels more Mr Skont and Ms Unus#.”
This was a tweet from Zindzi Mandela, South Africa’s ambassador to Denmark.
If you don’t understand some of the stuff in there, it is okay. You are better off that way.
Mandela’s string of tweets, which included a statement that “I am not accountable to any white man or woman for my personal views. No missus or baas here”, was criticised as racist by some and hailed as radical by others.
The problem with those who branded Mandela’s comments racist was that they included bigoted organisations and individuals within the AfriForum and Freedom Front Plus stable.
The problem with those who praised her as spouting radical thoughts and speaking truth to white power was that they missed the point altogether.
They characterised Mandela as representing the quest for redress on the land issue, but she was just spewing hate.
The matter quickly descended into a racial war, with views almost strictly going along colour lines.
Within hours, the substance of the tweets was lost.
With emotions boiling over, voices of reason feared entering the fray, hiding behind the spurious excuse that they needed to verify the authenticity of the tweets with Mandela.
The originator of the controversy was conveniently uncontactable because she was travelling.
It later transpired that she was in Paris – you know, that remote village in the Amazon jungle where there is no telephone signal and where technology is nonexistent.
Some have commented that she was betraying the legacy of her famous parents, in particular her father. That is utter poppycock.
She is her own person and has the right to hold whatever views she wishes.
The only time she would rightfully be accused of betraying her parents is if she was found to be wearing Kaizer Chiefs attire – that would be the day that the bones of those late Buccaneers rattle in anger.
The thing about Mandela’s tweets is that they were raw in their racism. Racism, not radicalism.
The tweets had the kind of sentiments that you would expect from an Andile Mngxitama, Steve Hofmeyr or Helen Zille, the new goddess of racism who found the freedom to be herself when she was no longer the leader of a political party.
Mandela is not only a senior civil servant and a representative of our good Republic, but a leader and a senior figure in our society.
More is expected of her than of the people she was sparring with on social media.
This is not to say she, or any black person for that matter, should shy away from confronting racist sentiment and behaviour whenever and wherever.
When racism rears its head, be it in the form of speech, action or a social media post, it should be slayed with as many swords as there are available.
This treatment should not only be reserved for the likes of Adam Catzavelos, Angelo Agrizzi, Vicki Momberg or that other crusty estate agent from Durban.
There are many more incidents of subtle and not-so-subtle racism that are experienced every day.
It is the manner in which this racism is confronted that is important. What we are currently engaged in is an unwinnable duel.
White racism is being met with black racism.
Black people increasingly believe that the only way to fight racism is by reciprocating. In the process, racial walls are going up and grenades are being lobbed over those structures.
It was never supposed to be this way.
Granted, the “kumbaya, let’s all love each other” rainbow project of the early years of democracy was never going be sustainable.
It was largely superficial and was based too much on glossing over our racist past’s real legacy – inequality and a racially skewed economy.
These factors play a big role in reinforcing attitudes around bigotry, racial superiority and inferiority.
However, this does not mean that it was a futile exercise. The project of nation-building, and creating a diverse and tolerant society was a noble one.
It just should have been accompanied by a more ambitious drive to right the wrongs of the past using some of the legislative and regulatory instruments that the pre-Jacob Zuma administrations had put in place.
But what we are now doing is replacing that project with one that will ensure our collective undoing as a nation.
The cheering that greeted Mandela’s tweets demonstrated just how polarised we have become. It was truly disturbing.
Just as disturbing is the fact that political leadership is either folding its arms or egging on the destructive fight.
The ANC, once the champion of the progressive (not flimsy) nonracial project, is missing in action as a leader of society.
Some of its leaders are even gladly assisting this careering towards the edge of the cliff.
South Africa may have other pressing issues such as breathing life into the economy, fixing the broken state, and taking care of the poor and vulnerable, but allowing this slide into a hateful nation cannot be abided.