Max du Preez
I’m becoming concerned about the phenomenon where some black commentators, intellectuals and politicians give themselves licence to gratuitously insult the white minority at every opportunity.
There is still far too much anti-black racism in our society and racist insults are common on right wing websites and on social media. But there are very, very few South Africans who do not view this as backward, objectionable, dangerous and socially unacceptable.
Black racist rants and insults, in contrast, are often proudly worn like a badge of honour by the perpetrators thereof.
Sure, I’m not black and was never subjected to the humiliations and deprivations of apartheid, so I cannot completely and fully comprehend black anger.
Still, from where I observe things, I sometimes get the idea that some of the gross insults dished out are the result of a form of bravado; saying, look what a brave African and militant I am, I fearlessly tell whites that they are evil intruders, rapists and murderers who should go on their knees to thank us for not taking their property or chasing them into the sea.
It’s as if black people aren’t the overwhelming majority in South Africa; as if the political power hadn’t shifted into the hands of the majority 21 years ago.
It would obviously be unrealistic and unreasonable to expect black South Africans not to have very strong resentments and grudges after the great injustices of the past. Naturally, these strong emotions would be expressed on occasion.
We also have to accept that the Rainbow Nation days of Nelson Mandela are something of the past. We are witnessing a rising black anger at the status quo and continuing inequality in our society. Whites should try hard to understand and acknowledge this and accept that this anger would sometimes be expressed in word and deed.
White South Africans’ best response to this would be to show more respect to black pain, to fight the denial of privilege in their own ranks and to actively commit to and be prepared to make sacrifices for a more just, equal and dignified society.
But is it reasonable to expect white South Africans to withdraw into a dark little corner and shut up while they witness this assault of hatred and intolerance?
The white minority is increasingly defined as the “other”, as “them”, as the common enemy - as if they are not also proper citizens of the land.
We have seen in other societies what this process of demonising one ethnic group can lead to if left undisturbed. It is dangerous, and can get more dangerous as the contestation for political power heats up.
No, I’m certainly not denying black anger, nor am I telling anyone how to feel and what to say. In fact, I believe there is a duty on politically aware black citizens to continue to challenge “whiteness”, to assert themselves, to take the lead and tailor our society into something that acknowledges and represents them fully.
I’m asking whether it is reasonable and fair to expect the white minority to just take more and more extreme and generalised abuse in passive silence.
I’m asking whether this aggressive public expression of loathing of a particular population group could contribute in any conceivable way to a better society and a better deal for those who are suffering the after-effects of colonialism and apartheid.
I respectfully want my angry black compatriots to consider the possibility that they are so focused on, even obsessed with whiteness that they lose sight of what is really important to them.
I hope he doesn’t resent me for quoting him in this context, but the public intellectual Achille Mbembe wrote last week: “For victims of white racism to hold on to the things that truly matter, they must incessantly fight against the kind of hatred that never fails to destroy, in the first instance, the man or woman who hates while leaving the structures of whiteness intact.”
I was moved to tackle this sensitive, difficult topic after my experiences last week.
I wrote a column in this space on the question I have been asked many times recently: would the ANC give up power if they lost an election?
I explained that a refusal to give up power would amount to tearing up the constitution and disbanding parliament, which could lead to economic collapse and great instability and suffering. The ANC leaders we know, in Cabinet and Luthuli House, would surely not contemplate anything like that, I wrote. We should stop worrying about this and instead channel our energies into protecting the independence of the judiciary and the media and into fighting against corruption, inequality and unemployment, I said.
In a lapse of judgment, news24.com then published a column by political commentator and businessman Bo Mbindwane in which he viciously attacked and insulted me.
I say it was a lapse of judgment, because the premise for Mbindwane’s extraordinary attack was a blatant lie. He posted a fake quote and then used that to shoot me down.
This was what he wrote: “In his new column, du Preez asks and answers his own question, Would the ANC hand over power? He answers this by saying, ‘no, the ANC will stage a coup d'état in 2024”.
This attitude showed me for the evil, naked racist I am, he said. And I have clearly always been that: “As in the past, Du Preez plays in racial stereotypes of blacks that are lawless, thieving, unthinking, lazy and unscrupulous as he describes this democratic government and its decisions that he personally has not liked.”
(He should at least have Googled me to find out what I did in the decade before 1994, or read the books I wrote and watch the films I made about pre-colonial and early colonial black heroes.)
I e-mailed news24.com, pointing out that Mbindwane was using a false quote in his column. The decision was then made to remove his column. I had no say in this; I have no links with news24.com other than delivering a column via e-mail once a week.
Mbindwane, with the help of a senior ANC functionary, then led a loud cheering commando on Twitter and Facebook calling me a nasty racist, white supremacist, Boer nationalist, land thief, evil disciple of Verwoerd and other unspeakable names.
I then published Mbindwane’s original piece verbatim on my Facebook page, the only public space I control, despite his threat on Twitter that he would sue me for R50m if I did.
The torrent of abuse continues unabated, from Mbindwane and others, as I write this.
This is merely one example of the irrational, unreasonable racial outbursts and attacks that have become all too common.
I’m not going to curse and insult in return, but I’m not going to play victim either and cry in my pillow. I’ll listen and I’ll be sensitive not to give offense unnecessarily, but if I’m rubbished without reason I’ll react.
It is high time South Africans started isolating the peddlers of hate on all sides.
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