Along with many of you, today I made a difficult decision regarding which party to vote for in South Africa’s National elections – more difficult than any of the previous 10 (if you include the Municipal elections) were.
In one respect, I take that as a positive thing, because competition is good, and more than one option on the ballot today had merits to consider. It’s sometimes a sign of a more mature democracy that the choice of whom to vote for isn’t utterly obvious.
Foreign readers, if you want a snapshot of how weird and emotive racial politics in South Africa can get, here’s one for you: A man who thinks that “Blacks were the architects of apartheid” has now filed a harassment charge against a ventriloquist’s puppet.
Go figure, or have an embolism trying. RT @steve_hofmeyr: Sorry to offend but in my books Blacks were the architects of Apartheid. Go figure
Chester Missing (whose book I previously reviewed) is the puppet of ventriloquist, comedian, anthropologist (and friend), Conrad Koch. The puppet’s Twitter account has recently been quite vocal in denouncing the racist – and bewilderingly contrary-to-reality – statement captured above, in part because it was made by someone with a large audience (on Twitter, but more importantly as an award-winning musician who has sold truckloads of records to people who like Neil Diamond, but in Afrikaans).
Missing has also been asking Steve Hofmeyr’s sponsors whether they are concerned about the negative impact on their brands that might accrue from being associated with Hofmeyr. According to Hofmeyr and some of his followers (from what I’ve seen, mostly folks who are routinely associated with Afriforum and/or Praag, organisations that are overwhelmingly white and Afrikaans, and who are – charitably – tone-deaf and emotionally crippled when it comes to race), this amounts to harassment and defamation.
Calling out racism & making sponsors question the appropriateness of who they sponsor isn't defamatory. I'm in @chestermissing's corner.
I don’t think it’s defamatory in principle, as you can see above. However, as I’ve argued in the past, I do think it’s possible for criticism to be sufficiently abusive or misdirected that it should be reined-in. (Having said that, the issue in the piece linked just above, on Mozilla and Eich, was for me more about picking the wrong target – Eich – rather than his religion and religious beliefs.)
In this case, though, I don’t see anything in Missing’s Twitter stream that crosses any kind of threshold into abuse, harassment or defamation. By contrast, I think that Hofmeyr needs to take responsibility for the statement he makes above, and others he’s made over the years, which give clear credence to an interpretation of racism, as commonly understood. (Conrad Koch has explained why he thinks the most recent statement is racist on his website, in case you’re Steve Hofmeyr or Dan Roodt, and need this explained to you.)
I’ll close with an example of a absurdly wrong-headed understanding of free speech and censorship, from the Institute of Race-Relations’ Frans Cronje (their name is misleading, in that you’d think they’re about improving race-relations, but I’ve rarely found that to be the case).
Why I say it’s wrong-headed is that obnoxious opinions need to be tolerated. He agrees with me on that, or so he says in the last (chronologically) of the three Tweets I’ll embed here.
Only if free speech = incitement to violence should it be limited. Defending the most unpopular voice will safeguard all moderate voices.
Chester is doing exactly that, in challenging Hofmeyr’s idea that black South Africans are the architects of apartheid. If Hofmeyr chooses to fall silent in shame (or whatever), that’s his choice. The only entity that has the power to forcibly silence Hofmeyr are the courts, and guess what – only one of the two parties involved (Hofmeyr) has approached the courts.
If @steve_hofmeyr is silenced because some don't like what he says then what is to stop the State one day silencing all unpopular voices?
Cronje’s argument works entirely contrary to his objectives here, in that this is precisely an argument against Hofmeyr approaching the police or courts to silence Missing.
To close the circle of absurdity with regard to South Africa’s racial politics, remember that Missing, in this case, is the puppet who is reminding others that Hofmeyr thinks blacks designed Apartheid, and Cronje is the CEO of the Institute of Race Relations.
And, he seems to want Missing to stop criticising Hofmeyr, while having no problem with Hofmeyr’s lawsuit. Go figure, indeed.
There is a difference between being moral and being moralistic. Whether or not we ever reach consensus on what it means to be good, I don’t think it could ever be a good thing to replace debate and discussion on morality with simple – and simple-minded – tut-tutting and finger-wagging that is premised on a belief in moral certitude.
Examples of individuals who claim this sort of moral authority are easy to find. From Mary Whitehouse’s campaign against the “permissive society” in Britain to local examples like the homophobic Errol Naidoo, these individuals tend to treat moral dilemmas as black or white issues, and are always at the ready with unambiguous solutions to those dilemmas.
There are various undeniable facts that should inform any thinking or talking about racism, and South African racist attitudes and behaviour in particular. Key among these is the fact that white privilege persists, and that any number of high-profile tenderpreneurs who are black cannot elide the reality of race-based class inequality in South Africa.
As a result of this historical and current inequality, as well as population demographics, black South Africans are statistically more likely to be poor than white people. This also means that black South Africans are less likely to have equal access to educational facilities, and also that they might receive lower levels of service, and have access to goods of inferior quality.