Donwald Pressly: Let’s not bully the baddies – ‘black or white’

Cape Messenger editor Donwald Pressly tackles the extremely sensitive topic of race in the piece below. But it’s not about what makes racist rhetoric, rather an approach to look at ways of dealing with those people that have participated in racist jaunts. There are lynch mob calls for justice but this is not his preferred corrective action. But then action should be taken and how does society deal with the likes of Sparrow, Theunissen and Qwabe? An interesting read that doesn’t have the answers but is in search of them as a united South Africa is a powerful beast. – Stuart Lowman

By Donwald Pressly*

Donwald Pressly
Donwald Pressly

We have a white problem in South Africa. Remember the time in the 1970s and 1980s when the National Party, the apartheid party, referred to “black spots” – areas where black people supposedly intruded on so-called ‘white areas’ of the country. They were also frequent references to the “black problem” in academic studies and political rhetoric. Blacks were the powerless people and there were all sorts of policy madnesses employed against them.

Now, incrementally, white people are becoming a political problem in the eyes of the ruling party – the ANC – and most definitely among Economic Freedom Fighters’ supporters. There are all sorts of suggestions about how to dispossess whites of land, in particular – note the Ntokozo Qwabe incident at the Obz Cafe with the white waitress – and “white” jobs. This week the chief executive of Neasa – the National Employers’ Association of South Africa – Gerhard Papenfus wrote an open letter to the Labour Minister asking how, if one is to implement ‘transformation’, what does one do with the white people that one has to remove from employment to achieve “demographic” job representation in the workplaces across the land? At last someone in the business sphere has the gumption to state the obvious.

Read also: Donwald Pressly: SA outpouring of love overcomes racism

Unfortunately there is a constant theme in South African politics – and government rhetoric and policy – to go the route of dispossession and, indeed, destruction. It is not entirely surprising given the National Party legacy of forced removals of ‘non-whites”, as they were called – we have District 6 as a living monument to the madness. Thousands of coloured and black South Africans were moved under this absurd and deeply destructive Group Areas policy.  It is also not surprising that schools have been burnt down in Limpopo this week because of a disputed municipal boundary delimitation. Schools are seen as monuments of the state, and thus, unfortunately, as targets of political anger. But that is another story for another day.

Let us lynch mob them, is the cry

Let us lynch mob them. This has become the attitude of countless black and white South Africans to the Penny Sparrows, Matthew Theunissens and Qwabes – the first two made racist remarks against blacks and the third effectively rendered the entire white population as illegitimate in South Africa – of the world. Take away Qwabe’s Rhodes scholarship to Oxford is one petition. Roast and fry Qwabe, Sparrow and Theunissen, cry black and white alike. Yes they are certainly baddies. But if we are to lynch mob them, hang them up in the public square, prosecute them for racism, will this lead to an attitude change of people who are racist? I think not. Surely we can find ways of educating – I am loathe to use the word “re-educate” – people to strip away their anti-social attitudes and actions?

That does not mean that white South Africans should accept a lunatic policy of demographic representation – where 90 percent of jobs, land, housing, access to capital – is reserved for “black” South Africans. It does not mean that we should accept demographic quotas in sport. This is just lunacy. Channelling our anger – and there is a lot of it in South Africa – into destructive policies and action, such as swearing and making racist remarks or burning down public buildings, however, is surely not the way to go?

We need to find ways of rising up as a nation for good purpose. We need to rationally argue that good policy, inclusive policies and positive political action need to be the way this country is directed. The lynching mentality is certainly not the way to conduct ourselves.

  • Donwald Pressly, Editor of Cape Messenger.