Quote of the week

Universal adult suffrage on a common voters roll is one of the foundational values of our entire constitutional order. The achievement of the franchise has historically been important both for the acquisition of the rights of full and effective citizenship by all South Africans regardless of race, and for the accomplishment of an all-embracing nationhood. The universality of the franchise is important not only for nationhood and democracy. The vote of each and every citizen is a badge of dignity and of personhood. Quite literally, it says that everybody counts. In a country of great disparities of wealth and power it declares that whoever we are, whether rich or poor, exalted or disgraced, we all belong to the same democratic South African nation; that our destinies are intertwined in a single interactive polity.

Justice Albie Sachs
August and Another v Electoral Commission and Others (CCT8/99) [1999] ZACC 3
1 August 2011

A vile attack on a successful black woman

As readers of this Blog know, I am not a great fan of the hate speech provisions in the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (PEPUDA), as I think these provisions are used far too often by people who wish to shut up others with whom they do not agree. In South Africa, it has become fashionable to shout “hate speech” whenever somebody says anything one does not like.

That is why I have argued that the hate speech provisions in PEPUDA should be interpreted narrowly to try and bring it in line with the Constitution, whose hate speech provisions are far more narrowly tailored than the provisions in PEPUDA.

But when I read the opinion piece by one Eric Miyeni in The Sowetan today I immediately thought that this is the kind of hateful and deeply reactionary and sexist drivel which qualifies as hate speech. Mr Miyeni is of the race-is-destiny school of thought, the school of thought which thrives on racial generalisations and assumes that one has no individual moral agency. One IS one’s race. One has no life, no moral core, no complex emotions and beliefs that are unique to oneself — one is only one’s race.

In this world, if one points out that a person is corrupt or has said something stupid, and that person happens to be black, one is automatically a racist. In this world view black people are not really individuals at all, but merely representatives of their race. This is scary stuff as it mirrors the racism of some white people who see one corrupt black person and then make assumptions about black people as a group. Instead of rejecting racial generalisations, it embraces such generalisations.

I grew up with many such people. They enthusiastically supported apartheid and propagated the most vile and vitriolic racist beliefs about black people. For them all white (Afrikaners) were good and pure and right (except if they joined the UDF or the ANC, in which case they became communists and traitors), while all black South Africans were dirty, stupid and dangerous criminals. (Vile nonsense, I know, but beliefs that are still quite prevalent amongst some white people in South Africa – even today.) If one criticised the National Party these people also invoked the power of the mob to discipline you, just like Miyeni did in his piece. I see very little difference between the hatred and prejudice of Miyeni and the hatred and prejudice of those white racists.

Today Miyeni attacked the editor off City Press, Ferial Haffajee, in an attempt to divert attention from the very awkward questions being asked about Julius Malema and the sources of his money. Fair enough — we are all entitled to our political opinions as we live in a democracy now. But when, in doing so, one descends into the dangerous waters of racial generalisations, one probably does not deserve respect from anyone. Thus Miyeni states:

Who the devil is she anyway if not a black snake in the grass, deployed by white capital to sow discord among blacks? In the 80s she’d probably have had a burning tyre around her neck. We know where she comes from.And today we must believe that Haffajee’s utter hatred of ANC politicians is based on journalistic integrity. Quadruple crap. I am more inclined to think that people like Haffajjee, who edits City Press, are most likely to be the kind that wakes up in the morning, sees their black faces in the mirror only to feel a wave of self-hatred rising up to nauseate them.

Of course, the (male) reporters who wrote the stories that Miyeni is upset about are not attacked. Neither are the black, male editors and columnists who often criticise the ANC and members of the tenderpreneurial black elite. Why not? Because they are not women, one assumes. Maybe Miyeni is still getting used to living in a country where women are “allowed” to succeed and where they do not have to obey the men of this world and make tea for them?

Can it be that Miyeni is a modern patriarch who cannot stand that a strong black woman is successful? So what does he do? He attacks her and hints that she should be necklaced. If ever there was a case of hate speech this is it. Recall that hate speech occurs where it can reasonably be construed that the author had the intention to be harmful or hurtful to somebody based on, amongst others, their race and sex.

Well, the hatred for Haffajee as a black and female editor who has dared to publish in her paper critical comments about another black person, oozes out of this vile piece. No reasonable person would doubt that the author had the intention to hurt Haffajee as a black woman.

The “opinion piece”, which sounds like it was written after the author might have had one or two cups of Motata tea, then proceeds with a justification for corruption — as long as the corruption is perpetrated by black businessmen (no women in sight here) and by black politicians. I quote:

The only real source of business for us is our government. Are we now being told that if we make money through government contracts, our only hope, we cannot use that money to help fellow black people who are in politics, who need private funding to function? Where then should black politicians get financial support?

Miyeni must not have heard of the Prevention and Combatting of Corrupt Activities Act, passed by the democratic Parliament in 2004, which criminalises the kind of activity he defends. If one is a “businessman” (black or otherwise) and if one bankrolls a politician who may be seen to have influence over the granting of tenders, then one is more likely than not committing a crime.

Even if one thinks about this in naked racial terms — like Miyeni does — this piece of legislation makes sense, because if such corrupt activities were not prohibited, only those black businessmen (and the businesswomen who Miyeni treats as invisible) who paid the right politician would ever get a tender. If one did not have the right connections or if one did not have the money to pay into the right trust account, one would not be able to get any tenders from the government — even if one happened to be black AND a man (women, once again, not really featuring in the world of Eric Miyeni).

So, that is why Miyeni’s rant is not only hateful and vile, but also illogical — even on its own terms. It is not a principled criticism of business practices in South Africa. It is not a principled argument for Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment. It is not about opening up the business world (dominated for so long by white interests) to all those who have been denied this opportunity under apartheid.

It is, instead, no more than a defence of a small group of well-connected tenderpreneurs who have the money and the connections to bribe politicians in order to get tenders. What about all the other hard-working men (and women) who wish to obtain tenders from the state but do not have the money and the connections to pay the bribes that Miyeni seems to support?

Well, for Miyeni they and their kind can go to hell, it seems, whether they are black or not.

2015 Constitutionally Speaking | website created by Idea in a Forest