Why black SA needed Ru­pert to ruf­fle feath­ers and tell it as it is

More white folks like him need to come out and speak freely if we are to move for­ward

Sowetan - - Opinion - Sandile Memela

So­cial me­dia de­bate on Power FM’s Chair­man’s Con­ver­sa­tion has gen­er­ated more heat than light. In­stead of re­flec­tive think­ing, crit­i­cal di­a­logue and re­spect­ful ex­change, so­called black twit­terati and other so­cial me­dia plat­forms have ex­ploded in vul­gar name-call­ing and sel­f­righ­teous fin­ger-point­ing. Hosted by the chair­man of MSG Afrika Given Mkhari, this year’s event fea­tured bil­lion­aire busi­ness­man Jo­hann Ru­pert, whose com­ments about the state of the coun­try had many on Twit­ter in­fu­ri­ated. Ru­pert ruf­fled feath­ers and out­raged many fol­low­ing his com­ments dur­ing the show in Jo­han­nes­burg on Tues­day. The most de­press­ing fea­ture of all this is the mean­spir­ited at­tack on both Mkhari and his guest Ru­pert. Per­haps what we need to un­der­stand is that free­dom of ex­pres­sion be­longs to those who have noth­ing to lose when they ex­press their thoughts and views. Un­like many or­di­nary folk, Ru­pert can speak his mind with­out fear or favour. He owes no one an ex­pla­na­tion. It is pre­pos­ter­ous to sug­gest that he was out to in­sult black peo­ple or to al­lege that he is ar­ro­gant. Truth al­ways af­flicts the com­fort­able. Ru­pert can­not be held re­spon­si­ble for how oth­ers feel about his truth. He was in­vited to be him­self. We should have ex­pected him and, above all, al­lowed him to speak freely ac­cord­ing to his his­tory and con­science. He seems to have done just that. This is a man who had noth­ing to lose if he were to keep silent. We ap­pre­ci­ate his courage to come out of his co­coon after 68 years. This is a cul­tural coup for Mkhari to ex­pose so­ci­ety to the thoughts of a man of this cal­i­bre. In fact, for the last 25 years, whites like Ru­pert have been con­demned to si­lence with no voice to speak freely. They have con­fined their thoughts to the mar­gins of ex­clu­sive braais and din­ner ta­bles. Yet their voice is im­por­tant. They are an in­ex­tri­ca­ble part of the fab­ric of this na­tion.

It is a wel­come devel­op­ment that Ru­pert was will­ing to come out of his com­fort to speak freely and clearly ac­cord­ing to con­science. In fact, more whites should come for­ward and do like­wise. As for black re­ac­tionar­ies that feel af­fronted, let’s go look at the men and women in the mir­ror. At some point, some­one had to burst the bub­ble. We need to be re­al­is­tic. We do need loyal pa­tri­ots who will tell us off. We are too com­pla­cent. We need dis­sent­ing voices. This is no time for a sin­gle per­spec­tive or nar­ra­tive. We are di­verse but must re­main fo­cused on work­ing to­gether. It is pre­dictable and mo­not­o­nous for some blacks – es­pe­cially in the priv­i­leged class – to cry racism ev­ery time a white speaks un­com­fort­able truths.

But that in it­self is nei­ther an ar­gu­ment nor in­sight­ful anal­y­sis. In fact, it is spir­i­tu­ally ex­haust­ing and bor­ing. As for me, I had no ex­pec­ta­tions.

I was just look­ing for­ward to a bru­tally hon­est South African con­ver­sa­tion. If cor­rect, it was nei­ther a de­bat­ing com­pe­ti­tion nor a box­ing con­test. It was a plat­form to ex­change views and to pro­vide new in­sights and un­der­stand­ings about con­tem­po­rary his­tory. We need this kind of frank talk. It is a cor­ner­stone to so­cial co­he­sion and na­tion build­ing. The great­est threat to our democ­racy is our un­will­ing­ness to lis­ten to the other side. Most of the time, peo­ple are not op­po­si­tion. It is just a ques­tion of em­pha­sis on how things should be done. It is un­for­tu­nate that the host, Mkhari, was bur­dened with black ex­pec­ta­tions of a so-called rad­i­cal black per­spec­tive, if there is still such. If so, we need to ac­knowl­edge that blacks have long splin­tered into dif­fer­ent groups. They have never been a ho­mo­ge­neous group. There will be those who praise the chair­man or JR. Other will crit­i­cise him. But there is noth­ing good or bad in what they did. It is all about what peo­ple think. The much-vaunted con­ver­sa­tion hap­pened. Those who lis­tened at­ten­tively learned a few truths and gained in­sights into one of SA’s great­est sons. We also learned about how we are seen. It is what it is. Let’s do it again, Given Mkhari. I take it you know that you can­not please all the peo­ple all of the time. But you un­veiled a bril­liant plan and part­ner­ship to make things hap­pen.

Memela is a pub­lic ser­vant. ■ He writes in his per­sonal ca­pac­ity.

/POWER FM/TWIT­TER

The writer says it’s ab­surd to sug­gest that bil­lion­aire Jo­hann Ru­pert, above with Given Mkhari, was out to in­sult black peo­ple on ‘Chair­man’s Con­ver­sa­tion’ on Power FM on Tues­day night.

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