Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
4 November 2010

The astonishing self-denial of Sunette Bridges

Sunette Bridges is probably not a household name for the vast majority of South Africans. They should count themselves lucky. Sunette Bridges is an Afrikaans singer, but I use the term “singer” rather generously here. For those who have not had the misfortune of encountering this artiste, I can only say: “Count your Blessings” (this is a pun: see next paragraph). Listening to the music of Sunette Bridges is about as gratifying as listening to the wonderful melody of a chainsaw being used by a sadist to sever your hands and feet from the rest of your body.

Some years ago Sunette’s late father, Bless Bridges (pun explained!), sold quite a lot of CDs. He was famous for gallantly dishing out satin roses to the middle-aged women who swooned about his velvety voice and his ability to yodel (alas, a dying art amongst Afrikaans singers) as well as at his rendition of that classic Afrikaans ditty Ruiter van die Windjie (roughly translated as Jockey of the little wind).

Sunette did not inherit her father’s musical talent (and that says quite a lot about her spectacular lack of talent). Unlike real artists like Amanda Strydom, Koos du Plessis and – more recently – Jan Blohm, she has also seemingly not inherited any social conscience or, come to think of it, even an ounce of decency and respect for others. She is a rabid racist but she is in deep denial of that fact.

Sunette is in “trouble” (but maybe not in as much trouble as she should be) because she has exposed herself as a typical racist on her Facebook page. These days, most racist white South Africans will speak in code. They will mask their racism by talking about how the country is going to the dogs and how “they” cannot be trusted. But Sunette is one of the old school racists who does not feel any need to hide her hatred and disgust of black people behind code phrases. As the channel24 website reports:

Singer Sunette Bridges, daughter of the Afrikaans singer Bles Bridges, has laughed off complaints about allegedly racist comments made on her Facebook profile. “It’s absolutely pathetic that people think it’s racist,” Bridges said, after Chris du Plessis brought the comments to Beeld‘s attention.

On Tuesday afternoon Bridges posted a message to Facebook: “Of all the instruments one can use to build STRAIGHT – a spirit level, profiles, measuring tape, fishing line, square – a sjambok is the only one that works for this Greenie of mine!!! EISH!!!!! Sx.”

Thirty people indicated that they “liked” this statement. By Thursday afternoon there were also 17 comments praising Bridges for her words. “That is, after all, the only language they’ve understood all these years. 3x hurrahs for you!” said a certain Rene Smit.

Ms Bridges evidently believes that referring to a black South African as a “Greeny; referring to this (as yet unnamed) person as if he belonged to her and was in essence a slave; and indicating that she needed to whip him with a sjambok to ensure that he did his work properly, was not racist at all. In fact, she thinks its hilarious and informative. What planet is this sorry excuse for a human being living on?

So much for the readers of this Blog who claim that hardly any white South Africans are still racists. Yeah right. Sunette and her many fans have obviously not received the memo that we now live in a democracy in which (at least) naked racism of this kind is frowned upon in polite society. This kind of thing is, of course, morally reprehensible and wrong. It is deeply dehumanising to the majority of South Africans. It is also rather counter productive as it fans the flames of racial hatred and intolerance.

Imagine Julius Malema saying such a thing about any white South African.

The outcry from white South Africans would have been harsh and prolonged. Why is there no similar outcry at the mad ravings of this untalented racist? Now is the time for all white South Africans (including the members of Afriforum and the leadership of the Democratic Alliance) to show some consistency by condemning these statement as disgusting and reprehensible. If they remain silent, we would know which side they are really on.

But more interesting and important perhaps is the question of whether the statement by Sunette Bridges is illegal. It is not illegal in South Africa to make racist statements. If it was, hundreds of thousands of South Africans would have had to be brought to court every month, as racists statements (as well as sexist and homophobic statements) are made every day by thousands of South Africans who probably preface their statements by phrases such as : “I am not a racist/sexist/homophobe, but……”

Some racists, sexists and homophobic South Africans are more sophisticated than Sunette Bridges, of course, and often say offensive things without realising that they are giving themselves away. Complimenting a black South African on her excellent command of the English language, say, or inadvertently referring to gay men and lesbians as engaging an “abnormal” sexual behaviour might be done with the best of intentions and one would seldom think that such statements – while objectionable – pass the threshold of illegality.

But what about the statement by Sunette Bridges?

Readers might recall that section 10 of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (PEPUDA) prohibits any person from publishing or communicating “words based on one or more of the prohibited grounds (including race), against any person, that could reasonably be construed to demonstrate a clear intention to (a) be hurtful; (b) be harmful or to incite harm; or (c) promote or propagate hatred.”

As I have written before, I am far from convinced that this section will pass constitutional muster as it limits freedom of expression far more than is permitted by section 16 of the Bill of Rights. But as the section stands, it seems obvious that Miss Bridges will not be able to escape conviction for hate speech on the basis that she had no intention of saying something either hurtful or harmful about someone else based on that person’s race.

What one has to determine is whether her words could reasonably be construed as having the intention of being hurtful or harmful towards black people in general or her employee in particular. I don’t think it would be too difficult to show that any reasonable person would construe her statement as having the intention to be hurtful or harmful to black South Africans. Afriforum therefore has every opportunity to win this case if it complained about Bridges’ statement to the Equality Court. The DA similarly might want to show some even-handedness and take this case to the Equality Court.

Personally I am not holding my breath that this will happen, as both organisations are vying for the support of people like Sunette Bridges and  her fans. I might be wrong, of course, and Helen Zille herself might announce in her weekly newsletter that the DA is submitting a complaint to the Equality Court about this outrageous statement. If that happens, I apologise in advance for assuming that the DA had a double standard and was – in effect – condoning the racism of a white public figure which it would have condemned if the public figure was black.

Just another day in South Africa, I guess.

PS: For a demonstration of the racism in the music of Sunette Bridges, see this Youtube version of her song “Genoeg“. Warning: it will make your stomach turn.

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