The ANC, Cosatu, and the SACP came out guns blazing last week following a cartoon which depicted some ministers, and the electorate that voted for them, as clowns.
Eyewitness News (EWN), Dr Jack & Curtis and Primedia were painted into a corner.
You cannot enter into a debate once you have been labelled as a racist.
And, there was not much space for a debate once the race card had been played.
The cartoon intended to initiate a debate about the choices of ministers and the dominance of the ANC on the current political landscape. It ridicules five ministers. The only odd-one-out is the new Minister of Finance Nhlanhla Nene. Surely he cannot be blamed for poor chair maintenance at the SABC.
But, out of the tri-partite alliance, only the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) put out a statement that even remotely tries to discuss the political comment the cartoon attempted to portray.
The SA Communist Party (SACP) did not even try to enter into a debate. The opening line of its statement reads: “The SACP condemns in strongest terms the racism that persists in the media in all its manifestations, hidden, disguised and open.”
The ANC in turn said: “We view this (cartoon) in a serious light given the resilience of racism in the South African discourse and the condescending attitude demonstrated by some elements in the media and society.”
The SACP and the ANC said the cartoon was offensive and blamed a racist media. Note, it is not just EWN, but all media that are racist.
Noted, the race card has been played. What now?
EWN’s Editor-in-Chief Katy Katopodis put out a statement admitting that the cartoon might have offended some. She then confronted the ongoing “tug of war” between government and media freedom.
CEO of Primedia Group Roger Jardine said George Bizos, who is their internal ombudsman, would handle the matter going forward.
Where did the debate go? Are we now debating ministerial choices, media freedom, free speech, a racist media or internal media gatekeeping?
From the comments posted on the Internet in this saga, it is clear that very little debate has materialised. The comments are simply people calling each other racists. But the hatred and vitriol in these comments makes it clear there is another debate we need to have as a country. A debate around racism. The operational word here is debate – not mudslinging and insults.
It is obvious that in a post-Madiba world, the underlying racial tensions in our society are of great concern. We cannot blindly stumble forward, hoping to build a better and more inclusive society if we cannot look each other in the eye and debate the issues of the day openly.
If we continually have to digress to race, we are not dealing with matters at hand. So, even if the cartoon was not intended to be about race, it is now. But let’s talk about race, racism, white privilege and apartheid on an open and fair platform.
Follow Pelser on Twitter: @HendriPelser