Of forked tongues and coloniZille’s wrongs
THE WORST thing about the ColoniZille affair is that it makes liars. The Stoep made that point back when the Gold Medallist of Famous Tweets was new, and I had in mind white people with forked tongues dispatching in-group e-mails asserting “Helen’s right but don’t tell the natives I said so”.
Now I say it of a bigger catchment. Those people are joined by equally forked-tongued black mouths, often distinguished, even illustrious, who happily tell appropriate company “this is phoney outrage, but of course I can’t say that in public”.
Well do I recall my first-ever hardtalk conversation with black people – momentous event; I was 19 or so, used to hearing, reading, talking about the African Question, now finally, astonishingly, having two actual Africans thumping fingers into my chest and firing cannonballs at my world view.
This was in the Mooi Street offices of the Rand Daily Mail. The two were journos, Ike Segola and James Mafuna, later Bokwe Mafuna, and the issue was colonialism. My case was standard Cecil Rhodes: look at all the benefits you got.
Their reply was shocking: nope, boytjie, those benefits are but part of the story, what they came with was put-down and belittlement, oppression and scorn.
This was no small mind-blower. I knew about maltreatment, that’s how I’d gravitated to the Mail, but it was supposed to be a new aberration, a thing to blame on nasty Afrikaners, not on the whole pale presence of innocent niceguys who voted Prog.
Bokwe and Ike never influenced anybody more than they influenced me that day (and if you’re thinking I’d been unduly naive, beware; my attitude and response were identical to Nelson Mandela’s, as described in Long Walk).
For years following, I’d use Ike and Bokwe to white guys who insisted that colonialism was purely beneficial. I’d say that if you can’t open the other eye there’s a hole in your head.
Funny, hey? Now we’re supposed to open only the other eye.
The issue makes hypocrites, too. Liars aren’t necessarily hypocrites; it’s when you present yourself as one thing to one audience and the opposite thing to another, and a lying hypocrite is worse than a plain liar.
It also makes racists. In this category fall the chorus singers of “it’s criminal to damage your party’s standing among blacks”.
You can accuse me of the sin called “idealism”, I hear that plenty. Actually, it’s not idealism, it’s not even that less elevated thing “ethics”, it’s plain common sense to say that to build your approach, your communications, your life, on playing separate tunes to separate galleries is racist. It’s also a fine formula for ultimate downfall, but that’s another story. I’d bet that when Helen’s busy fingers tapped out her atom-bomb tweet she had zero thought in mind of offending anyone; she was high on seeing Singapore working like she wants to see us work. I’d bet also that not one brain cell was allocated to worrying about the complexion of her readers.
The racists are the mob who dump on her for being unguarded about race. They’re racist for bringing it up and more racist for their implicit reasoning, “it’s okay for whites, who can handle this discussion, but the blacks must be protected”.
I’ve just written the most race-laden Stoep in months, packed with these backward terms “black” and “white”.
If we take seriously the idea of this southern tip of Africa being a place of trust and affection, people feeling at home in confident and good about themselves and their compatriots and their world, we don’t make witch-hunts over trivia. We discuss openly, honestly, without taboos.