DON’T CALL ME THAT! THE RISE OF HATE SPEECH
In a politically explosive atmosphere, the hateful essence of some words can acquire a murderous relevance.
Issues relating to what are called hate crime and hate speech can be so involved as to make whoever is pursuing them throw up their arms in the air in despair. In South Africa, a country just emerging from centuries of a criminal history, it is more than understandable that new laws be put in place to punish anyone who is seen to discriminate, in word or in deed, against a person or a community. After all those years during which the natives of the land were made non-citizens and they were called all sorts of debasing things, it is natural that the new political order try to do away with these hurtful practices.
And the same can be said of any other country and/or society in the world, including our own neck of the woods. In all our countries, we have derogatory terms used to denote someone from another ethnic group. It is safe for me to identify examples in Tanzania, where terms like “munyamahanga” and “chasaka” are used in the northwest and northeast respectively, but mean exactly the same thing – foreigner. And this in Julius Nyerere’s own land.
Thank goodness that these terms have become neutered to the point of being largely humorous. Nevertheless, it is easy to imagine a politically explosive atmosphere in which the hateful essence of the words can acquire a murderous relevance. Once politicians’ appetites collide, they will recruit voters from the cemetery and pluck word meanings from dead dictionaries.
The horrendous example of Rwanda a quarter century ago is still too fresh in our memories for us to be complacent. More recently, Kenya gave us another reason to be wary when faced with seemingly innocuous utterances that hid deeper, darker thoughts.
The debate in South Africa has been at times delightful. We all know about words such as kaffir, which the racists still use to refer to Africans, and which is easily classifiable as hate speech, but what about all the “van der Merwe” jokes that all those Xhosa and Venda are so fond of ? Someone was suggesting the other day that it is impossible for Africans to be racist; only others can be racist against them.
Maybe so, but that cannot mean they cannot be guilty of discrimination against others, even other Africans. That is what they are guilty of every time they hunt down immigrants from Mozambique, Zimbabwe and other countries from the north.
If there is anything that apartheid did efficiently it was to make South African blacks believe they are not Africans, which allows them to call their brothers and sisters “makwerekwere,” a term which, I hope, will be proscribed alongside kaffir and other nasty epithets.
Bu that alone will not be enough to inculcate Africanness in the bosoms of the South Africans. They need to be taught their history, the history of great men and women who registered great feats, including building awesome empires, before they were rudely interrupted by the white marauders. And the history of those valiant men and women who gave their all in the struggle to end colonialism, racism and apartheid.
It is more than surprising that it is only now that this country that is so full of history is discussing whether the teaching of history should be made compulsory in its schools. Tell me, where else did you expect a nation in its infancy to go shopping for the values and attributes that make it a nation if it is not from its history, as well as the history of the world?
Indeed, the learning of history is not the nostalgic return to the past to lose ourselves in fictions of the idyll that never really was; rather, it is a journey of discovery and self-discovery that affords us a comprehension of ourselves as the only means with which we could ever hope for an understanding of the other, and how we have related with that other over time.
We may even hope to begin to understand how the word kaffir, which means unbeliever to Muslims, came to be a term of abuse employed by the
The horrendous example of Rwanda 1994 is still too fresh in our memories for us to be complacent.” where else did you expect a nation in its infancy to go shopping for the values and attributes that make it a nation if it is not from its history?
Boers against Africans. Such are the idiocies of fascists that Adolf Hitler’s Nazis chose a flipped-around Indian swastika as their emblem of Aryan identity as they sought to convince themselves that they were the world’s master race. Nonsense.
. Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: email@example.com