Concerning Penny Sparrow, the DA, Blacks and Monkeys

2016-01-05 01:00

Penny Sparrow, white woman calls black beachgoers monkeys. She went on to suggest that such a presence of so many black people on "public beaches towns etc" brings discomfort to others. You may ask who are these others that are not comfortable being around black people. Obviously her racist kind and seeing her supporters online and notably Gareth Cliff  and one former DA Strategist who suggest she has a right to voice out her racist comments. So she has a legitimate right to call black people monkeys.

But of course there are limits to free speech in South Africa. Something called hate speech. And  Ms Sparrow apologised saying that she did not mean any harm by her comments, she loves monkeys, they are cute, and helps underprivileged groups. In her apology she went on to say that her statement was not racial if you read it properly. Now all those who found it offensive cannot read properly.

Then later Black Twitter read more of her Facebook posts, and found one posted in 2014 where she, like her fellow white DA KZN member Dianne Kohler Barnard,  had expressed her dissatisfaction with the current government saying how good things were in Apartheid South Africa, a government run by educated white people.  Apparently things started going bad when Blacks took over in South Africa, and oh she misses Smith in Zimbabwe, Rhodesia was perfect for her.

And later, her supporters who share her views came out to defend her, one @Daleenprinsloo1 suggested that anger expressed by many black  people which made Penny Sparrow feel unsafe is the way black people respond to the truth. You ask which truth? That blacks, according to Penny Sparrow are monkeys.

But why so much hatred and where does it come from? You would be naïve if you thought that the 1994 elections erased any racist ideas from the minds and hearts of those who supported the Apartheid regime. What would have magically changed those views? Mandela and Tutu preaching peace? Admirable and indeed needed at that time but it failed to appreciate that almost all nationalist movements teach their new members the core values of that nationalist group. And many scholars who have studied nationalism will tell you  that women are ordinarily responsible for teaching the values of that nation to its new members. John Coakley dedicates a chapter of his Nationalism, ethnicity and the state: making and breaking nations book on nationalism and gender in which he explores how women are viewed in some nationalist movements. So racists ideas may still be reproduced.

Penny Sparrow’s daughters did not see anything wrong with their mother calling black people monkeys. I cannot hold that against them, they were raised by her after all. So would you expect a racist woman to raise children that see black people as human beings worthy of same respect and dignity she would demand for herself?

Imagine how crazy South Africa must be to have black people making laws in legislatures, laws that Penny and her kind must obey, running businesses, doctors, nurses, accountants. The country must look really messed up to her kind if you have monkeys everywhere hence missing educated white people running the country as she said. Monkeys hanging around some of the beaches that used to be for the exclusive use of her kind making them uncomfortable. It is discomforting to have black people occupying a space that used to be for whites only.

Then there is her support for the Democratic Alliance. Why would the DA appeal to her and her racist kind? One of the prevailing views among racists is that black people cannot govern. Of course Botswana is governed by white people. And the DA constantly points out the failures of the ANC government with the narrative that the DA is racist making it appealing to the Penny Sparrows of South Africa. Beyond that the DA finds the whole issue of race relations somewhat awkward. Something they have to be forced to face, never at their own initiative. Even when forced through public criticism, as evident in the case of Ms Dianne Kohler Barnard, does not really believe in distancing themselves from racists.

My fellow DA supporters would defend the party and say hey we had a disciplinary hearing through our internal processes on the Barnard case, suspended Penny Sparrow’s membership and opened a criminal case against her. So the DA would seem to have done something about it. But their actions contradict their statements. DA leader Mmusi Maimane speaking at the DA congress in Port Elizabeth said there is no place for racists in the party. Then Ms Barnard happened, initially dismissed but later reinstated. So there is a place for racists in the DA, right in the national legislature where Ms Barnard represents the party and importantly, the party’s voters.

So this tolerance of racists in the DA on its own attracts them. And of course rejecting race as a proxy for redress. Again the DA will tell you many differing views on this. Maimane will tell you that if you cannot acknowledge that he is black then you cannot see his oppression (he said something like this in Port Elizabeth). But Zille will tell you that acknowledging that Maimane is black and identifying him as such for redress is racist. Two different messages being sent to the public but still attract racists. Why would Penny Sparrow support a DA led by a black man if she hates black people? Simply because there are types of blacks that racists can tolerate. Maimane is educated and this is important to racists.

Remember in the 1930s educated black people could apply to the State for promotion to the status of coloured. Not a monkey but not yet human kinda thing. So you can have an educated black person just as long they have other white people around to keep them in check, who knows, their monkey traits may pop out if left on their own. I’m trying to rationalise Penny’s support for the DA here and it only makes sense if she truly believed that the party is racist.

The party’s handling of racism, sexism if you go back to DA MP not so honourable Figlan who grabbed a woman’s hand forcing her to feel his genitals , then of course there is the handling of the Civil Union Bill. So the story is that the party is not racist, it has black representatives, now even a black leader, not sexist as it has been led by women, and not homophobic because it has openly gay public representatives. Hell even Mr Gay South Africa was won by a Gay DA councillor at some stage so it cannot be.

This makes the party its very own enemy because it makes it very hard for people to believe they are sincere on these oppressions that it finds uncomfortable to confront for they may risk pissing off other racists who share Barnard’s views if she is fired. Their votes count even if they come from racists. But it does make it difficult for the party to attract black voters that it needs if it genuinely has ambitions of governing the country or even winning more Cities in this year’s local government elections.

A while back, I wrote that white people such as the late Watty Wattson make me uncomfortable in the DA. He was working as a DA MP at that time and he had joined the National Party in the 1960s right when the Apartheid Government was in full “cruise control” mode prosecuting black people who opposed the racist regime. Because the idea of white supremacy preached and implemented by Verwoerd, Botha, Vorster and Co appealed to him. This is where this reconciliation thing gets difficult because now you have Apartheid supporters representing the DA in legislatures. Reconciling with this is hard. I'm no Mandela or Tutu. I personally do not know how to forgive. I have family members that I have not forgiven even when they are in their graves so it is not so easy.

But that in no way means that I believe all white people are racist. Dorothy Mfaco told me stories of her anti-Apartheid comrades that happened to be white. Because men and women from all walks of life joined together to fight the racist regime. Zille could tell you stories, and her mother could also tell stories of resistance and so would Jenny Schreiner. Many other white South Africans saw the need to fight the regime. This is why it cannot be that all whites are racist but certainly the DA is good at appeasing racists at the expense of losing the opportunity to attract the black voters it desperately needs.

But one of the issues no one ever dares to speak of is that of blacks calling other black people monkeys. No Penny don’t get too excited; this is not me defending you. Feminist Twitter pointed out that Black Twitter is not as outraged by some oppressions such as sexism or say homophobia. Because some may on occasion throw in a sexist or homophobic remark and no one says jail sentence there. This suggests that there is a hierarchy from which we can decide on which oppressions are significant enough to warrant jail time. For some of us, oppression of one by another is wrong period but not for all of us. For some, being racist is worse than being sexist, homophobic or other black people calling people with albinism inkawu (monkey).

And children grow up learning from their adults and so they take the ‘normalised’ dehumanising terms thinking it is okay when it actually is not. I watched in Site B, Khayelitsha as a boy with albinism is referred to as inkawu. He has a name and I know the names of most children in my street that play with my cousins but I only knew the little boy by lamntwana uyinkawu (that monkey kid if you like) as grown-ups called him. Of course this in no excuse for white people to call black people monkeys just because black people also call other black people monkeys.

The point here is that dehumanising others is wrong and if we are to point at the disgusting flaws of others, maybe some introspection about what it is that you stand for and against is necessary. I do not see how you can choose which oppression warrants outrage and which one does not if you truly believe that people have an inherent right to human dignity. Failure to check your own bigotry makes you a Penny Sparrow of a different kind. Frene Ginwala believed that you could choose between oppressions when silencing feminist voices in the struggle against Apartheid maintaining that the focus must be on racism. She was not alone, there were many sexists and homophobes in the movement and as such, feminists and gay rights activists had to keep raising their voices. So bigotry is everywhere and ought to be challenged whenever it manifests regardless of who the perpetrator is.

For now, the DA’s tolerance of racists such as Barnard makes it incredibly difficult to justify to myself why I should renew my DA membership and importantly, voting for the DA. But in all fairness, my national vote was never going to Presidential Candidate Maimane. I cannot vote for Zuma’s ANC, the EFF, IFP, or UDM. Mampela why did you mess up Agang SA mara? Maybe Madonsela needs to start a political party when her term ends. She may not win the election but her voice in the legislature or executive is needed. Wait… Isn’t she an ANC member? Who to vote for ke?

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