Let the voices upholding nonracialism speak - Businesslive

Jul 10, 2022
10 July 2022 - I was reminded last week of a passage from a recently acquired book of essays, Reading Myself and Others, by novelist Philip Roth. The passage comes in a 1981 interview with Roth by French journalist Alain Finkielkraut.

Michael Morris
I was reminded last week of a passage from a recently acquired book of essays, Reading Myself and Others, by novelist Philip Roth. The passage comes in a 1981 interview with Roth by French journalist Alain Finkielkraut. 

When Finkielkraut asks how Roth’s My Life as a Man was received by “women’s lib” in the US, the novelist recalls a Village Voice headline, “Why do these men hate women?” that appeared over photographs of Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, Henry Miller and himself.

Roth ventured that “in 1974 the world had just recently discovered that women were good and only good, persecuted and only persecuted, exploited and only exploited, and I had depicted a woman who was not good, who persecuted others and who exploited others — and that spoiled everything”.

To depict a woman “without conscience ... who misused every power”, was “vindictive” and was driven by “limitless cunning and wild, unfocused hate ... was contrary to the new ethics ... It was on the wrong side of the cause. It was taboo.”

What made me think of this was, of course, Bheki Cele’s meltdown in Gugulethu, and the claim of racism he directed at his undaunted critic, Ian Cameron.

Rather than try to account for his underperformance, Cele lost it, accusing Cameron of treating him like “a garden boy”, and then making a complete buffoon of himself by shouting Cameron down at the top of his voice and being content to see his own cops forcibly remove Cameron from the meeting.

But, wait; are we actually allowed to hold failing politicians to account? And, if so, does that mean all of us? We are indebted to eNCA’s Sally Burdett for so carefully framing the issue in her interview with Cameron after last week’s spectacle.

Burdett asked: “Do you think — and this is perhaps the issue that is hard to talk about — there’s a point ... where the free-for-all robust engagement on what is wrong in SA and the things that need to change ... ends and white South Africans’ sensitivity to our history of privilege must begin?

“Do you think about those things, and do you think that could have played a role? And do you think that as a white South African you need to edit yourself and be perhaps sensitive to how you might appear?”

To his credit, Cameron spelt it out plainly: “No, I went there today as a citizen, as someone that really cares. I spend a lot of time with these families on ground level. So, honestly, I couldn’t care less what race someone is ... I am not going to get involved in race issues when I see people being killed at the rate which they are.”

Credit goes also to forthright Oxfam SA director Lebogang Ramafoko for warning in a Newzroom Afrika interview that Cameron’s critics “are playing into what is becoming very dangerous in SA, and that is shallow racism politics”.

“When you look at [Cameron] at a very shallow level, you can say he’s got no space to speak, but when you hear what he has done ... toe to toe, the minister is out of his depth”.

As the Institute for Race Relations put it on Friday: “In any constitutional democracy failing governments must ultimately be held to account by the citizenry. This requires persevering in upholding nonracialism.”

To fail would come at the expense chiefly of the poor, most of whom — mainly because the legacy of history has been so poorly addressed since 1994 — are black.

• Morris is head of media at the SA Institute of Race Relations.


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