‘Sorry’ means nothing unless you’re sincere about it
IN MANY ways, we have lost the ability to debate in South Africa. Our debates quickly move towards the personal and forget or overlook the arguments involved.
For instance, people will look at your social, political, historical or economic background before deciding how much weight is in your comments. It is so easy to dismiss someone because they are a socialist, a communist or a capitalist, depending on your flavour.
Often the personalisation of arguments verges on “otherising” those with whom you are debating, especially if their arguments are stronger than yours.
Some people look at whether you are are white or black before deciding whether to take seriously your comments on issues such as #FeesMustFall.
It is arrogant in the extreme to think only black people have the right to comment on something of national importance. At the same time, it is arrogant of some whites to think their views are somehow more important or relevant than those expressed by mainly black students who are demanding free education, among other things.
The problem with “otherising” people is you end up seeking categories via which you can “otherise”. You end up dismissing someone’s argument because s/he is a man/woman, young/old, disabled, gay/lesbian/straight, black/white/ coloured/Indian, Xhosa/Zulu/ Sotho, etcetera.
Such categorisation could as easily be used against you by other people who argue in this way. These debaters stop at nothing to make sure they have no empathy for the person with whom they are arguing.
You would be surprised at the identity markers people ascribe to you. They are never those you’d use to describe yourself.
When we argue, there is also often a stubborn refusal to accede having made a mistake, instead claiming to have been misquoted or quoted out of context.
Sometimes when I look at what passes for an apology, I ask myself quietly: “Why bother?”
This is what I thought this week when I saw the “apology” by the over-aged leader of the ANC Youth League for comments he allegedly made, calling on people to pick up arms to defend the president.
Such comments are stupid at best, completely reckless at worst.
After apparently being berated by the ANC leadership, the youth league and its leader issued apologies. They should not have bothered.
This is part of what the youth league said (it’s unedited so please excuse the mistakes):
“On Saturday, 15 October 2016, the ANCYL President, Cde Collen Maine, addressed the ANC Ethekwini march, outside the Durban City Hall. The address of the President of the ANCYL prompted some opportunists within the country to allege that some of his statements amounted inciting violence.
“As the ANCYL, we do not view the said statements in that way and in particular, we do not view the said statements as amounting to inciting violence.
“Section 16 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa affords every person a right to freedom of expression, which right includes the right to impart information and ideas, provided that this right does not extend to inciting imminent violence.
“For one to be accused of inciting violence – “violence must be intended, likely and imminent”.
“The statement made by the President of the ANCYL were taken out of context.
“First and foremost, the statement was not directed against any specific person; neither was it intended or directed at any particular person or group of persons.
“The President of the ANCYL League does not have the authority to instruct members of the MK Veterans to bring guns. Such authority lies elsewhere, in particular with the President of the MK Veterans.
“The President of the ANCYL did not call for any members of the MK Veterans to shoot at any person. Therefore, it cannot be said that he was inciting violence. In anyway, he is incapable of doing so given that he is not the President of the MK Veterans. As a result, the alleged violence is not likely nor in any way imminent.
“The ANCYL wishes to put it on record that both itself and its President does not promote violence in South Africa in any form and/or whatever manner.”
The sad thing is they probably believe the content of this statement.
It is clear somebody needs to teach the youth league how to apologise properly and with sincerity.
I am not singling them out because they are supposedly young. I have been seriously impressed by the arguments of many young people over the past few months.
Unfortunately, in South Africa we do not have a tradition of saying sorry sincerely.
Unless we learn to do this, and genuinely to listen to each other, we will continue to have an environment in which it is easy to spread hatred based on poor arguments and accusing “the others”.
Surely we can do far better?