‘Sorry’ means noth­ing un­less you’re sin­cere about it

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

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?

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