Sara Gon: Is racism in the eye of the powerful only? - Biznews

Jun 30, 2024
IOL, owned and controlled (an understatement!) by Iqbal Survé, embarked on an impressive act of trawling the internet for a post that was put on YouTube on 11 March 2010 and removed over a decade ago.
Sara Gon: Is racism in the eye of the powerful only? - Biznews

Iqbal Survé’s IOL sought a decade-old deleted YouTube clip of DA MP Renaldo Gouws’s racist tirade. Roscoe Palm resurfaced it to embarrass the DA amid political negotiations. Gouws’s speech, contextualized by farm attacks, led to his suspension. The debate spotlights free speech, media responsibility, and political exploitation of racism.

Sara Gon

IOL, owned and controlled (an understatement!) by Iqbal Survé, embarked on an impressive act of trawling the internet for a post that was put on YouTube on 11 March 2010 and removed over a decade ago.

Journalist (and socialist activist) Roscoe Palm quoted the clip on YouTube:

“Alright so there’s a couple of things I want to say. Kill the f**ing k*ffirs, kill all the f*ing n*ggers. That’s all I gotta f*ing say. Kill all the k*ffirs! Kill all the f*ing n*ggers!”

This tirade was uttered by social media personality and DA member of parliament Renaldo Gouws. It’s really strong stuff, its resurrection by Palm presumably intended to embarrass the DA as it engages in the fraught negotiations in the Government of National Unity.

As Politicsweb notes, Palm is a co-founder of the Pan African Institute of Socialism together with Philip Dexter, who is chairperson of Armscor, a former member of the ANC, then COPE and then the ANC again, former executive director of Nedlac, member of the SACP’s politburo, and non-executive director of a range of numerous government entity boards. 

Gouws, like all South Africans, has the constitutional right to free speech, however repulsive such speech may be. The DA, unavoidably embarrassed, suspended Gouws with “immediate effect while he faces disciplinary charges before the Party’s Federal Legal Commission”.

This is what most organisations will do if the actions of a member/employee  bring the party into disrepute. And in the current context, that is what such media exposure was likely intended to achieve in the absence of context.

The full context of the video was set out by Politicsweb:  

The video was made in response to an address by then ANC Youth League Julius Malema at the University of the Free State where he had sung ‘struggle’ songs;
One song was “Awudubele (I) bhunu“; “Dubula amabhunu baya raypha” (“shoot the Boer/farmer, they rob*, these dogs”);
Another of Malema’s chants was: “Shoot the Boer, the farmer. Shoot to kill. Shoot to kill”; 
Gouws explains the context as being an environment of farm attacks and farm murders, in which the songs and chanting be seen as racist and exterminatory;
The video, in the above contexts, was flighted 12 years ago and deleted within two years. 
(*A comment responding to the original article corrects the translation as “the Boers are raping us”.)

The history of the songs as they relate to the armed struggle is described in detail in the Politicsweb article.

It notes, on the one hand, that it is a sensitive matter for many Afrikaners and other white South Africans, who have “had friends and family members attacked and sometimes killed in their homes by armed gangs; and who also fear what such chants presage for their future”.

On the other hand, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and the Supreme Court of Appeal, have defended “the legal right of Malema to lead large crowds in such death chants, on the basis that these are meant metaphorically or figuratively, not literally, and are aimed only at mobilising his supporters around a programme for the deprivation of the white minority of its land and other property, not its actual physical destruction”.

In summary, Gouws says he is asking black viewers to consider how they would feel if whites made equivalent utterances about black people. He goes on to discuss the effects of farm attacks and killings on the affected communities.

Gouws’s central point is that if he, as a white man, were to say or sing the equivalent of what Julius Malema chants, he would be jailed, but Malema would not.

There’s no doubt that the words Gouws used were excessive; his point could have been made without the excessive, racist language.

The Free Speech Union of South Africa (FSU SA) believes that both men have the constitutional right to say whatever they think or believe, however odious it may be to the other. 

Restricting hate speech, save as provided for in the Constitution, contravenes that foundational right.

It is important to know what people are saying, in order to support or oppose any propositions made in a robust democracy. This helps in exposing threats to society, and preventing any harm that may genuinely result. 

Arguments about the contextual hierarchy of apartheid versus farm killings will be emotional and probably infinite. 

Both the Hate Speech Act (criminal sanction) and the longer-existing Equality Act (civil sanctions), in our view, exceed the limitations set out in Section 16(2) of the Constitution, which states: 

“The right in subsection (1) [freedom of expression] does not extend to

a. propaganda for war; 
b. incitement of imminent violence; or 
c. advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or     religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm.”
Arguably, the requirement that speech advocating hatred must “constitute incitement to cause harm” does raise the bar in determining whether speech is permissible.

However, we argue that the limitations on Section 16(2) permitted in Section 36, and contained in the above Acts, are not “reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society”.

Both Acts risk opening the way to ‘lawfare’ where the powerful can litigate a weak transgressor into the metaphorical dirt. This was most graphically (and perhaps literally) illustrated in the case of the late Penny Sparrow.

The racist comments of a Penny Sparrow have little to no impact on society, unless they are exploited by powerful political actors. Even though they may be offensive and even hurtful, they will not harm society in any fundamental way. The outrage and actions that usually accompany these ‘events’ is, in reality, intended to be disproportionate to the nature of the offence caused.

Repeated surveys done by the Institute of Race Relations have demonstrated that racism does not feature prominently in the experience of or is a main hindrance to the majority of South Africans. We are not a race-obsessed society.

This does not mean that alleged hate speech wouldn’t and shouldn’t have consequences. Those consequences, however, should come from contestation in the public square. In the case of Gouws, suspension by the DA is a common response to anything that is perceived to have detrimentally affected an entity’s reputation, subject to being fully canvassed in evidence at a disciplinary hearing.

However, more insidious are the repeated and deliberate utterances of hate speech by those who have political power and profile, for whom anti-minority sentiment is a core programme.

It is most commonly reflected in the questioning of the validity of white South Africans as citizens, or worse.

It was the very personage of former president, now leader of the MK party, Jacob Zuma, who contracted that whitest of white PR firms, Bell Pottinger, inter alia, to re-craft the struggle era term ‘White monopoly capital’ as a slur to help meet Zuma’s need to disparage whites.

This process of racial antagonism was a feature of Zuma’s second presidential term, as a way of deflecting publicity from the predations of state capture, corruption and cadre deployment. 

And it’s never stopped. At the launch of the uMkhonto we Sizwe party on 16 December 2023, he accused Cyril Ramaphosa of being “a proxy of white monopoly capital”. 

On 17 June 2024 Zuma slammed the GNU, calling it “meaningless” and a “white-led unholy alliance“. There is a delicious irony in the fact that the DA is the most racially diverse party of all.

Since 2015, Zuma has consistently warned about the “resurgence of racism” and the failure to build the “envisaged” non-racial society. It matters not whether he believes it or just uses it as a useful rhetorical device: it is intended to re-racialise the country.

The MK’s election manifesto is a mishmash of radical and conservative policies, enmeshed with Zuma’s special brand of hypocrisy comprising self-pity, victimhood, war-mongering and anti-white racism.

The EFF’s anti-white rhetoric is well-known, and it too is hauled out with monotonous regularity; it serves the same purpose as Zuma’s.

Both parties use the demonising of whites as political capital, although there’s little evidence to support any presumption that such racism is found in most of their supporters.

However, the real challenge to our society is to counter the “white party”/“reinstate apartheid” narrative and the very ugly threats made by political scoundrels emphatically and whenever they appear.

Much of the media has failed in the past 30 years either to condemn this racism emphatically and the hatred expressed by those with political power, or to question the veracity of these claims.

One has started seeing a shift in this regard, albeit it an uneven one. The media has too often allowed its outrage at the Penny Sparrows and Renaldo Gouwses to obscure not only the context of such speech, but the real, largely unchallenged power of the profoundly impactful utterances of the Zumas, the Malemas, and even the Ramaphosas. 

South Africa’s truest interests would be better served by discerning journalism capable of distinguishing between merely fostering hostility for racist speech that is of minimal actual consequence, and confronting the groundless racism of the powerful who are willing to exploit it for their own selfish ends and with reckless disregard for the high social cost.  

Sara Gon rants professionally to rail against the illiberalism of everything

This article was first published on the Daily Friend.

Sara Gon: Is racism in the eye of the powerful only? - Biznews

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