South Africans, no matter their gender, race or political persuasion, love to play the man (or woman) rather than the ball when it comes to an ideological argument.
That’s partly because it’s much easier to resort to ad hominem personal attacks than to tackle, or demolish, an opponent with the power of thought and logic. It’s also undoubtedly due to the fact that South Africa is still an uncouth youth of a nation, where mouth is often set in motion long before brain is engaged.
We are also still exorcising the demons of colonialism and apartheid, and it was perhaps naive to believe that we could easily put our past behind us.
Social media is to blame for much of the explosion of poison and hatred across our society in the past five years. The things many people would not say in public they don’t hesitate to fire off across the internet, often attracting similar rage and insults in return.
In 2019 South Africa, brave is the person who stands up to repeat the old aphorism: I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. You could get yourself attacked – or your books burnt – for uttering such a contentious thought. So, I generally have low expectations of South Africans and the way they challenge those they disagree with.
But even by those low standards, I was gobsmacked by the insensitivity shown by lawyer Richard Spoor – a man known for his commitment to the struggles of African people – with his heartless jibe on Twitter at EFF leader Julius Malema over the weekend.
The EFF and Malema tweeted about burying his aunt (who they referred to as his mother) in Limpopo. Spoor tweeted: “When your mother passes disappointed in how you turned out it’s really hard. Everyone wants their mother to feel proud.”
When your mother passes disappointed in how you turned out it’s really hard. Everyone wants their mother to feel proud.
— Richard Spoor (@Richard_Spoor) April 13, 2019
That crossed a line where common human decency ends and disgusting behaviour begins. Malema’s actual mother is in any case long dead (Malema was raised by his grandmother).
The chirp by Spoor was more than a cheap shot – it was a low blow intended to hurt someone when he was grieving.
It showed, apart from extraordinary callousness, a deep lack of understanding for the importance in African culture of honouring the dead. Spoor’s comment would have confirmed for many Africans that white people, even the seeming good and liberal ones, really don’t understand them, or care for them.
Spoor’s words, in many ways, echo those of National Party police minister Jimmy Kruger in the aftermath of the death in detention – of neglect and abuse – of Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko in 1977.
At a Nat congress, Kruger claimed Biko died as a result of a hunger strike. He added: “I am not glad and I am not sorry about Mr Biko. His death leaves me cold.”
Whatever one feels about Malema, he is entitled to have time to mourn. Burying a close relative is not a time to play politics, for vicious personal attacks.
I can predict, though, that I will get hate mail for saying this and will be accused of being an apologist for Malema and the EFF. I am neither of those things.
Just remember, if you are going to insult me, that will say a lot more about you than it will me.