The 2015 #SaxAppeal cover


This is not a “rage-blog”. I’m not indignant, offended or any of those things by the Sax Appeal 2015 cover that I saw via Twitter this morning. It depicts Christian Grey (a rich white guy who is into BDSM) looking out over shacks where poor black people live.

I do, however, think it was a poor choice of image, for the two reasons I’ll outline below. But first, a general point, which is the actual motivation for this post: there are usually intermediate options between the polarised sorts of shouting at each other that social media seems to encourage.

Criticism is quickly read as outrage, and in a case like this, can also lead to accusations of conservatism, fuddy-duddyishness and so forth. On the other end of the spectrum, those who support the image can overstate its virtues, and not recognise any value in concerns expressed by others.

There’s a gulf between those options, and that’s where I’m speaking from. I was shocked by the image, but I mean shocked in a descriptive sense, rather than as an index of moral outrage – it took me aback. So, that’s a plus for the “good satire” reading, in that being forced to take notice is a good start.

But the cover ultimately misses the mark, and was a poor choice. First, because risky satirical choices are only a smart move if you’ve got credibility as a satirist or satirical publication. Without that, you can appear to be simply echoing the reality you’re trying to critique, or appear oblivious to dimensions of it.

Simply being known as a satirical magazine one isn’t the same thing as people knowing you to be good at that job, and therefore interpreting you in that light – and sorry to say, but I don’t think Sax Appeal been good at it for a while.

Second, you significantly increase your chances of being read uncharitably by virtue of the targets that you pick. In this instance, there’s a context of:

  • 5 years of debate on admissions policy, race and transformation
  • public criticism from UCT academics on the perceived slow pace of transformation at UCT
  • a funding crisis at a national level, affecting the ability of poor students to enter universities
  • a rather public tantrum by a prominent media house owner on UCT’s transformation track-record
  • a university that is situated in a city that is perceived by some as racist

And so forth. In other words, this was a very risky issue on which to push the boat out. I certainly don’t think they were intending to be crude or offensive – in fact, I know some of the people involved, and trust them in this regard – but this was a poor decision.

(Sax Appeal has taken note of the reaction, and posted the statement quoted below to Facebook.)


On behalf of the SAX Appeal Editorial Team, we regret the hurt caused by this year’s cover photo.

We understand the concern about what is perceived by some as racist or patronizing undertones of the image; but we would like to state unequivocally that our intention was not to make light of racism or to humiliate its victims.

Our intention was to open up discussion about the problematic power relations in South Africa. The legacy of apartheid has left a tragic divide between rich and poor, black and white, rural and urban – a divide that is still perpetuated daily.

Just as the themes of 50 Shades of Grey allude to power dynamics in sex, our hope with 50 Shades of SAX was to discuss the other power dynamics that still pervade our society. Even though the privileged no longer oppress the underprivileged daily with batons or whips, we hoped that the cover image would inspire discussion about the secretive, underhand ways in which the privileged still get their way.

These issues, including those within the magazine, such as the discussion around homophobia in Islam, the psychiatric profile of God and of golf being representational of white privilege, were included in the magazine to bring about such discussion.

In this way, SAX 2015 has taken a very different turn compared to previous editions. Sensitive topics were not written about to ridicule the marginalized or disadvantaged but to induce meaningful discussion about these topics. These are issues that we did not think we could avoid discussing, but if we missed the mark in our attempt at discussion, we regret the effect that this has caused.

We hope that this perspective might add to the debate that has been sparked on social media and that it might point it in a direction that is critical and constructive around issues of race and socioeconomics.

Sax Appeal 2010: on causing offense

Following the controversy caused by last year’s edition of Sax Appeal (see here and here, if you don’t know about this), the editor asked if I’d be willing to contribute a column. I was, and here it is, for those of you not in Cape Town (or those who simply ignored the pleas of those desperate students at the traffic lights).*

As of January 1 2010, blasphemy is a crime in Ireland, with offenders liable for a €25000 fine. Later in January, Kurt Westergaard – one of those responsible for the infamous “Danish cartoons” – was attacked in his home by a knife-wielding fanatic. Closer to home, some readers of Sax Appeal may still harbour memories of the outrage provoked by the “blasphemous” content of Sax Appeal 2009, and some others (well, the same ones, probably) may currently be choking on their morning tea while trying to process the harms they believe themselves to be enduring as a result of the edition you are currently reading.

Frontline Fellowship: Lying for Jesus

So, the Frontline Fellowship (of which Peter Hammond is Director) has posted a description of the debate that was meant to happen recently. Here’s how it starts:

Atheist Abandons Argument
Just two hours before the scheduled debate the Atheist Association lecturer, Jacques Rousseau, cancelled his involvement and withdrew from the debate. The organiser was then compelled to change the venue from Jameson Hall to a different venue nearby.

Apparently, the event ended like so:

Over 100 students responded to the challenge to commit themselves to full-time Christian ministry. Many of those expressed their conviction that they were called to be missionaries to university campuses. The atmosphere at Campus Harvest was electric.

These 100 students will no doubt undergo rigorous training in hyperbole, hysteria and deception, judging from the article. All I can do is to – again – point out that if these students are at all interested in an education, and the facts, they can avail themselves of the evidence in the form of the correspondence leading up to the debate here.

Varsity – reporting on the blasphemy debate

Today’s edition of Varsity, the student newspaper at UCT, carries an article (see end of post for a scan of the article) reporting on the debate that was meant to occur last week. Contrary to my fears, it’s a balanced and sensible account of what happened in the lead-up to the non-event. There are, however, a few details from the article worth commenting on.

A stinging rebuttal

From Pastor Michael, in response to my blog posts (I think).

Hi, To All

I would like to address this letter To Jacques,

and have some of you to be as witness so that Jacques may not Twist my words again as it is a custom to you atheists.

Jacques, you wrote in your blocks about the reasons of your pulling out. in all you have said, i recognized that the organization had some problems and i told you which i find so small problem as long as our speakers were comfortable with that which proves to me i was right because we finally made it to the end as i told you we will be able to have the debate because i trusted my abilities to do so.

Jacques, your thinking worries me; the facts you presented in your block were tricky and Dishonest.

“Open motivational letter” from Michael (Pastor)

Well, he says it’s an open letter. As sent to Varsity (on April 18th, although I only received it an hour ago). His covering letter reads:

Hi, My Dear Sister Zerene
Here are some more infos about the debates:
-the date is wednesday the 29th April at the Jameson Hall from 6:30 to 8pm
-on their sides, their speakers are: Dr. Tauriq Moosa and Jacques Rousseau.
-on the Christian’s side there is Bishop Clinton L. Battieste and possibly Errol Naidoo
and the chairperson of the events is given to the SRC Though Amanda who is the first Chair and the second chair is to be chosen soon because He or She must be an Independant person which the SRC still has to find.
Please, can i ask you two things to do for me?
1. to announce the International Christian Conference that will follow the next day after the debate with our Guest speaker Bishop Dr. Clinton Battieste
2. secondly, i am attaching a letter that is very important to publish because the need might be there to know why have gone this way of deciding to debate with those who undermines us and pushes us away because we chose Jesus as our and our life and Truth.
be blessed and hope to hear from you again any time.

The blasphemy debate debacle

As readers will know, a debate was meant to take place tonight, at UCT’s Jameson Hall. I have now withdrawn from this event, as has my co-speaker, Tauriq Moosa. I fear that those we were scheduled to debate with may try to exploit this to their political advantage, and therefore feel that it’s important to place on record the sequence of events leading to my withdrawal, as well as the reasoning behind it. First, though, apologies to any of you who looked forward to attending, and especially to those who did not receive timeous notification of the cancellation via my Twitter or Facebook messages.

Blasphemy debate (update)

Here’s a sense of what awaits:

Some loony rambling

Part of me wonders whether I shouldn’t spend the bulk of my allotted time simply explaining the mistakes in the Michael Nlandu sentences, as quoted above. I’ll only have 15 minutes, after all. But no, as he says: “this is not vengeance”, so I’ll focus on the problems associated with burying one’s head in the sand more generally, rather than picking on poor Pastor Michael.

Dennett in South Africa

While it’s unlikely that any real person exists who a) hasn’t heard about this and b) would only learn about it here, I’ll nevertheless urge anyone who is/can be in Cape Town (31 March) or Stellenbosch (1 April) to attend these lectures by Daniel Dennett. I went to Durban last week to hear his talk on Religion as a natural phenomenon, and will certainly be attending both lectures in the Cape – he’s a wonderful speaker, and as any of you who have read his books know, also a thinker well-worth paying serious attention to.

Also, he worked the Sax Appeal debacle into the Durban talk – since then, I gave him copies of the cartoons, as well as the VC’s response and my comments on those. So there’s a chance that this may get a more thorough airing in Cape Town.

Carte Blanche, 15 March

The insert on Sax Appeal and it’s “blasphemy” aired tonight, and even though the show did its best to not offend the fragile, that hasn’t stopped some ranting from occuring – I suppose simply because thinking seems the last thing on some people’s minds in cases like this.

I’m rather disappointed in the segment as aired. The reactionary homophobe Errol Naidoo had a disproportionate amount of airtime, and they cut any comment from Jordan Pickering, who I know was interviewed. For context, Jordan is a Christian who argues strongly – and coherently – against the religious outrage that this episode led to. His comments would have presented some balance to Naidoo’s claims of justified offense.

Further, Naidoo himself was treated sympathetically, and his letter – which surely contributed directly to death threats received by staff on Sax Appeal – was explained away as having been written in the heat of the moment. Yet nothing was said by Naidoo – or any other person of religious persuasion – to lessen the impression that free speech is all fine, unless you say something bad about my invisible friend, who – despite so much financial, spiritual and emotional support – is still surprisingly vulnerable to attack-by-cartoon. If only Satan had known…

A brief word to UCT students: I of course didn’t mean to say that all of you have no idea of what is going on. The students that I asked did not, but there may be many who do. I simply wonder why none of you have said anything about this.