Racist out­bursts ex­pose SA woes

Lesotho Times - - Africa -

JO­HAN­NES­BURG — A slew of racist com­ments on so­cial me­dia in South Africa have un­leashed out­rage and ex­posed deep hos­til­ity in the “Rain­bow Na­tion” as it strug­gles with its demons 22 years af­ter white-mi­nor­ity rule ended.

Ir­ri­tated by rub­bish left on a beach fol­low­ing New Year’s Day cel­e­bra­tions, Penny Spar­row, a white real es­tate agent from the east­ern coast prov­ince of Kwazulu-na­tal, wrote a sav­age com­ment on Face­book.

“From now I shall ad­dress the blacks of South Africa as mon­keys as I see the cute lit­tle wild mon­keys do the same — pick and drop lit­ter,” she said, in a post­ing that soon went vi­ral.

The fol­low­ing day Chris Hart, an eco­nomic an­a­lyst of­ten quoted in the me­dia, came un­der fire for com­ments on Twit­ter about a grow­ing “sense of en­ti­tle­ment and ha­tred to­wards mi­nori­ties” in South Africa.

He has since been sus­pended from his po­si­tion at Stan­dard Bank, which said there were “racist un­der­tones” in his com­ments.

The posts touched off a vi­cious cy­cle of ha­tred in a coun­try still trau­ma­tised by decades of finely-tuned dis­crim­i­na­tion be­tween the races un­der apartheid rule.

“I want to cleanse this coun­try of all white peo­ple... We must act as Hitler did to the Jews,” Ve­laphi Khu­malo, a lo­cal govern­ment em­ployee, wrote on an­other vi­ral Face­book mes­sage as the war of words wors­ened.

He too has since been sus­pended by the Gaut­eng pro­vin­cial govern­ment depart­ment, which con­demned his “bar­baric and racist ut­ter­ances”.

Flood of insults Soon af­ter An­drew Barnes, a white TV news an­chor, was taken off air by lo­cal chan­nel ENCA af­ter mock­ing the pro­nun­ci­a­tion of a black govern­ment min­is­ter.

The flood of insults “has shone a light on the amount of work that still needs to be done to bring true rec­on­cil­i­a­tion to South Africa,” Mienke Steytler of South Africa’s In­sti­tute of Race Re­la­tions (IRR) told AFP.

The rul­ing African Na­tional Congress (ANC) has filed charges of “crimen in­juria” (in­ten­tion­ally im­pair­ing the dig­nity of oth­ers), against both Spar­row and Hart — but not Khu­malo.

“We opened and laid charges against the peo­ple who orig­i­nally started mak­ing th­ese of­fen­sive state­ments,” party spokesman Zizi Kodwa told AFP.

“Th­ese in­di­vid­u­als must be pun­ished be­cause they are tak­ing South Africa back... South Africa has never been so po­larised as it is to­day racially.

“Khu­malo re­acted to an of­fen­sive com­ment which was made against black peo­ple.”

Steytler slammed the ANC for “un­ac­cept­able dis­crim­i­na­tion” over its de­ci­sion not to pur­sue charges against Khu­malo.

In 2000, 72 per­cent of South Africans were re­ported to be­lieve in­ter­ra­cial re­la­tions were im­prov­ing. By 2012, that fig­ure had dropped to 39 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to a govern­ment re­port.

The ANC has also floated the idea of laws crim­i­nal­is­ing “any act that per­pet­u­ates racism and glo­ri­fies apartheid”.

But crim­i­nal­is­ing racism is not nec­es­sar­ily the so­lu­tion, said Nelson Man­dela Foun­da­tion CEO Sello Hatang.

He quoted the late pres­i­dent Man­dela, say­ing: “In the end, rec­on­cil­i­a­tion is a spir­i­tual process, which re­quires more than just a le­gal frame­work. It has to hap­pen in the hearts and minds of peo­ple.”

Party pol­i­tics A clumsy at­tempt to apol­o­gise by Spar­row only stoked pub­lic anger af­ter she ap­peared to blame her di­a­betes for her out­burst.

And the coun­try’s largest op­po­si­tion party, the Demo­cratic Al­liance, which has long been try­ing to shake off its rep­u­ta­tion as a “white party”, was left red-faced when it was re­vealed that Spar­row was a mem­ber.

The party fought to de­fend it­self, lash­ing out at Spar­row for “de­hu­man­is­ing black South Africans” and ex­pelling her. Khu­malo, too, pre­sented his apolo­gies, but the ex­plo­sion of vit­riol across so­cial me­dia con­tin­ued un­abated — re­flect­ing of­ten-un­spo­ken ten­sions within South African so­ci­ety.

“The weaker the econ­omy is and the higher the un­em­ploy­ment fig­ures are, the more frus­trated peo­ple are and the more they are likely to lash out at each other,” said Steytler.

South Africa is bat­tling a 25 per­cent un­em­ploy­ment rate, slow growth and a sharply weak­en­ing cur­rency, with the risk of junk sta­tus loom­ing on the credit hori­zon.

“We have been liv­ing on a cos­metic rain­bow na­tion since 1994,” said Ron­ald Lamola, a for­mer leader in the ANC’S youth wing. “There will be no racial har­mony with­out eco­nomic equal­ity.”

Penny Spar­row’s di­a­tribe about rub­bish on a beach com­pared black rev­ellers to mon­keys.

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