2016 go­ing on 1987

CityPress - - Voices -

Anew year is never sup­posed to be­gin this way. Those who are still on hol­i­day are meant to con­tinue en­joy­ing the last of their lazy days, while those who are back at work are meant to ease back into nor­mal life.

The year 2016 did not al­low South Africa that priv­i­lege. On Mon­day, we were thrust into a mael­strom, thanks to some back­ward-think­ing racists who seemed un­aware that a heat­wave, a bot­tle of al­co­hol and a smart­phone are a lethal com­bi­na­tion. The racist out­bursts by Penny Spar­row, Justin van Vu­uren and Chris Hart were trou­bling in that they showed the per­va­sive­ness of be­liefs that should have been in­terred with An­dries Treur­nicht.

Even more dis­con­cert­ing was that these pro­fes­sional peo­ple were pre­pared to share these views with the whole world.

How­ever, there were pos­i­tives to be taken from this toxic week. Never be­fore have cit­i­zens gal­vanised so strongly around the is­sue of racism. Be it in news­pa­pers, on ra­dio, so­cial me­dia and other plat­forms, the back­lash against the racist com­ments was im­mense.

Van Vu­uren’s gym com­pany was dumped by ma­jor cor­po­rates. Spar­row, who is now a house­hold name, went into hid­ing, and she will find rein­vent­ing her­self hard. The pre­vi­ously re­spected Hart was not only sus­pended by his em­ployer, but em­bar­rass­ingly had his poor aca­demic qual­i­fi­ca­tions laid bare be­fore the pub­lic. The trio, along with Gaut­eng gov­ern­ment worker Ve­laphi Ndlovu, will now face the might of the law as charges have been laid with the po­lice and chap­ter 9 in­sti­tu­tions.

A mes­sage has been sent that there will be con­se­quences for those who ver­balise and prac­tise prej­u­dice.

It is im­por­tant to main­tain this mo­men­tum. Hav­ing said that, this news­pa­per would like to cau­tion against this vig­i­lance turn­ing into vig­i­lan­tism. In this the age of so­cial-me­dia ac­tivism, it is very easy to stage ef­fec­tive protests with­out call­ing peo­ple to the streets. And in emo­tive sit­u­a­tions where cam­paign­ers have smelt blood, this pow­er­ful medium can be abused. So­cial me­dia has proved it­self an in­valu­able weapon in deep­en­ing democ­racy and fight­ing the ills that be­set our so­ci­ety, in­clud­ing racism. We should be care­ful not to al­low this free­dom-en­hanc­ing tool to be­come a weapon to shut down free spa­ces.

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