SLR Diary: When it’s OK to pull the race card – and other reflections on the body politic

EDINBURGH — When apartheid came crashing to an end in 1994, the overtly racist went into hiding as Nat supporters scuttled away. Although the separate benches, beaches and buses for different racial groups no longer exist, and the pencil test has been relegated to the annals of history, racism has continued to be a sore point. In his regular column, Simon Lincoln Reader – a Saffer based in London – ponders how often the race card is pulled to conceal dirty deeds. He also highlights some ugly, hurtful incidents in South Africa and in the UK, underscoring that racism is a game that people, everywhere, play. – Jackie Cameron

By Simon Lincoln Reader*

Monday

To understand Jessie Duarte, it’s helpful to examine history beyond the condemnation.

The first point to examine is her infamous exchange with the BBC veteran John Humphrys back in 2009. The second is her defence of her son-in-law, Ian Whitley, and the third is her recent treatment of a young and talented black journalist, Samkele Maseko.

All three points feature near identical threads of bitter, indignant, doubling-down whataboutery: what about colonialism, she said to John, when asked about Jacob Zuma’s corruption allegations; what about the elite in Treasury, she responded when that idiot Ian was implicated in the Des van Rooyen project – and what about state capture beyond the Guptas, she remonstrated to assembled journalists in Cape Town the day of Tito Mboweni’s appointment as Minister of Finance.

Combined these form the profile of a feverishly unhappy, paranoid, fatally uncompromising individual obsessed by what she is convinced is ideological prejudice – a woman who is and would always have been totally unemployable outside of corrupt, left-wing politics.

So the analysis concludes with two findings: the first is sympathy. There is derangement beyond reasonable doubt here, a fluid madness devouring the poor woman’s mind, reducing her facial features to that of someone permanently gargling a tepid cup of vomit. The second is the state of the ANC who, far from acknowledging this tragedy, continues to insulate itself with it – at the time in its existence when it can least afford to.

Politely asking people like Jessie and Ace Magashule to respect rights and role of the media is hysterical. No, journalists must instead refuse to attend any press conference where they participate. So what if we don’t get to hear updates from the ANC? Do you actually care?


Tuesday

Some radioactive whataboutery was also central someone else’s defence some weeks back, when Iqbal Surve appeared before the Mpati Commission.

My former partner sent me the link to his entire deposition, which I forwarded to a British journalist.

This week I received a response. “Astonishing,” the journalist remarked before asking me an interesting question – to which I did and do not have the answer – “do Tutsis speak publicly of Hutus in a similar way?”

I wouldn’t descend to the extremes of such a comparison, but I did form a question of my own.


Wednesday

And that is: at what point will using racism as an excuse for malfeasance be outlawed to the extent actual racism is?

If I recall correctly, the first time I witnessed racism being used as an excuse involved an MEC in the Western Cape by the name of David Malatsi. In the early 2000s, David had been accused of corruption, pocketing R400,000 from some exotic Italian wanting to build a golf course.

From there it indiscriminately consumed the body politick. I can’t think of a political controversy – from the Arms Deal, to Nkandla, to Thabo Mbeki’s views on HIV/Aids, the grant crisis, Hlaudi, Eskom, etc – where some claim of racism, used to shield an incompetent or implicated party’s behaviour, has not been made.

As it can’t be seen, the damage wrecked by this stratagem can’t be measured – so inevitably liberals will scoff at suggestions of its fatal impact upon relationships. This, of course, is half the problem.


Thursday

The answer to my question is, predictably, never. It’s too convenient, as Iqbal’s seething monologue’s illustrate; enabling such legislation will be scorched as denial, despite the collateral damage – meaning, actual victims of racism.

Last week Stu Lowman and I exchanged some information about the candidate I prefer as Theresa May’s successor as Prime Minister, Sajid Javid, the incumbent Home Secretary. I sent Stu a link to a public message that had been posted by a prominent Labour activist and supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, describing Sajid as a “coconut”.

The slur is actionable, right? Wrong – the offending party is black – and feels entitled to use this kind of incendiary language.

This is, I think, yet another disastrous, inadvertent consequence of this culture – the idea that people who are not “white” cannot be racist – and are thus allowed to call fellow non-white people whatever the hell they like.

No charges have been levelled against the Labour activist.


Friday

Despite his acquittal, evidence that emerged during Jacob Zuma’s rape trial justified its existence. He has never been convicted of corruption, but Bulelani Nqcuka’s claim of ‘prima facie evidence’ against Jacob in 2003 echoes in the present arguably louder than ever. As President, amongst many other things, Jacob: i) misled Parliament and lied repeatedly ii) fathered a child (and possibly more) outside of his marriage(s) and wedlock iii) embarrassed the country on multiple occasions, whether by an infantile grasp of numeracy, toxic friendships or absurd declarations such as “I am not an economist, but I am rebelling against the principle of supply and demand” (his own collection of eye-wateringly expensive Swiss timepieces would find that position quite remarkable).

But word on the street here as of Wednesday evening is that the attention of the Americans has been piqued – on the subject of the missing Gaddafi millions. These guys don’t really buy that whole dispossessed-wounded-peasant-also-racism thingy. Oh dear Jacob, of all the stupid things you’ve said and done, this one, well, good luck with it.

  • Simon Lincoln Reader lives in London.