Repainting the red lines

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File photo: Elmond Jiyane

Every so often, the red lines on the playing field get faded.  To promote fair play all round, it is necessary to re-paint them. Two examples come to mind.  One is the court decision that gratuitously flying the old flag is a manifestation of hate speech.  We needed this demarcation to set a precedent.  Afriforum has already tested it, and its excuse (that it was not used “gratuitously”) is as slippery as Zuma saying that by “enemy agent” he was not referring to the Apartheid-era spies that he alluded to while giving testimony only weeks early at the Zondo Commission.  Everyone knows what he meant.

The second example is the conviction of a black citizen for calling another man a “kaffir”.  His excuse was that it is only crimen injuria when a white man uses the slur to hurt a black citizen.  The court disagreed.  It is always hate speech, and the word should be deleted from all of our vocabularies. This is a useful reminder that racism is not always white against black.  For example, when the Hutus committed genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda, it was one black race (Bantu) against another black race (Nilotic).  So it was not just tribalism, it was racism.  Tutsis are not Bantus, neither are Somalis, Ethiopians or Dinkas.  They are black, tall, and have distinctive facial features.

Similarly, the holocaust in World War II was a huge exercise in racism.  But the German whites were not targeting blacks.  They were extinguishing another white race – the Jews.  It was Arians against Semites – both whites.  So the court decision that a black man calling another black man a “kaffir” is indeed hate speech was instructive. Now we are all waiting to see if Hanekom’s contention that the term “enemy agent” could not refer to parliamentarians from different parties speaking to one another in the corridors of power.  

Removing a rogue president is not treason, any more than a wife beaten repeatedly by her husband is disloyal by leaving him.  In fact, loyalty and integrity abide with the whistle-blower when a crime is committed. In a constitutional democracy, there is no such thing as an “impimpi”.  Informers are encouraged to come forward using hot-lines and are sometimes even offered witness protection by law enforcement. Some other red lines need painting too…

What about when one black citizen calls another a “coconut” or an “oreo”?  This terminology is hurtful.  It amounts to intimidation as a way to preserve cherished black customs – including those that are illegal and un-democratic. Or what about the rebuke that is all too common when a white citizen speaks to a black person at mid-morning?  Perhaps they are asking for directions?  “How do you get to downtown?”  In a condescending tone, the black person approached replies sternly “Good morning.”  This rebuke is pejorative.  It is said to insult or to infer “Our African culture is better than yours, and in our culture, we have manners”.  It is rejection, it is rebuff.  It comes like a slap in the face.

What about when one white or foreigner who does not speak the local dialect finds himself or herself at the butt of jokes or comments spoken in a language common among the others present, which s/he does not understand?  Generating humiliating laughter, at their expense.  Is that not a form of rejection, of exclusion, of insult?  Just because we have eleven national languages does not mean that we have to intentionally shun others by closing them out and making them feel out-numbered.  This is on the edge if intimidation.

Or what about the term “makwerekwere”?  Like the baboon reference of “kaffir”, this reference is to flocking or migrating birds.  They are just passing through.  And there are so many of them!

Another narrative recurs in the news from time to time.  Foreigners who reside among us get lonely, and seek a companion.  The lady’s family take advantage of the Africa-wide tradition of Lobola.  They take the man’s resources, offered generously and in good faith, and then the customary marriage crashes and burns.  If it ever gets going at all, for sometimes they take the initial Lobola money and run.  There is no “ukumekeza” – she never even moves in.

Especially if the groom is an illegal alien (these are not being condoned by this mention), they are reluctant to run to the police or to Home Affairs.  These are called “fake marriage syndicates” by the media.  They are one manifestation of organized crime.  In fact, this is one form of Human Trafficking. We need guidance.  We should thank the Judiciary for repainting the red lines.  As we are definitely all equal, we can all make mistakes.  To err is human.  We all do it.  Certainly there was and is white supremacy in the world.  There is also such a thing as black supremacy, as Malcolm X found out first, and later the Tutsis in Rwanda.

The South African flag is emblematic of two major cultures merging.  That should be our goal.  To do so, both have to change direction.  That should suggest some objectives to us.  Court decisions like those mentioned above help to guide us as we change direction.  So – “be the change that you want to see in the world”.


Chuck Stephens is the Executive Director for the Desmond Tutu Centre for Leadership and writes in his personal capacity.