What I learnt from trying to stick up for Barry Bateman

Barry Bateman. Picture: Video screenshot

Barry Bateman. Picture: Video screenshot

It seems our interpretation of the incident depends on where you position the role players themselves in the hierarchy of power.

When I banged out a column with the headline “Hands off Barry Bateman” in about 20 minutes yesterday morning, ahead of rushing to a 9am meeting, I already knew I would get lots of flack and abuse from EFF supporters.

Fine. I’ve been getting that for years. And, sure, that happened.

What did come as a bit of a surprise was how much consensus there appeared to be among black people on social media that what Barry Bateman said about EFF leader Julius Malema was motivated by racism, and that Bateman is a racist. By extension, anyone trying to defend the poor chap, and who likewise doesn’t think all that much of Julius Malema (like me, and, clearly, Barry Bateman), must be a racist too.

I don’t know a lot about Bateman, and I’ve never met him, but I didn’t immediately assume racism when he was caught muttering what he did, under his breath. I just saw a journalist venting, and thought it was a comical gaffe that should never have been caught on camera, and should never have been blown up to be the huge issue it became, after it was.

Was it unprofessional? Sure? Do doctors occasionally kill their patients? Sure.

Shit. It, famously, sometimes, happens.

South Africans have a great sense of humour, so can we conclude that we just leave it at the door at times like these? I don’t think so. I’d be willing to bet that the first reaction of just about everyone who saw that clip of Barry getting caught out there was to burst out laughing.

It’s only later that many of us, perhaps, discovered how outraged we were. I might be wrong, but that’s a question you can only ask yourself and answer honestly in the privacy of your own head.

I’m happy to accept, though, that I may be quite wrong on this and that I misjudged the general reaction completely.

I suppose it depends on your background and perspective. Personally, I laugh unashamedly at something if I think the joke is punching up, at people in power, and particularly at people who abuse that power and even bully others with it.

To me, Malema exemplifies that, and so I thought Bateman’s crass, throwaway slur against this powerful individual – right after this same incredibly influential individual was mouthing off about how he wished he had beaten up a white policeman – was funny.

However, it’s obvious that Malema’s supporters and sympathisers consider Malema the underdog, and that it’s someone like Barry Bateman (or perhaps even any white journalist) who exemplifies the ongoing post-apartheid white privilege and white supremacist ideology that someone like Malema is ostensibly trying to dismantle.

From that point of view, they see Barry Bateman as the person in power who is punching down – and then that’s not so funny.

From that point of view, Bateman is the bully, and the EFF and their leaders are the victims, with the Bateman clip now being used to “prove” the EFF’s point that the negative reports about them are a product of “Stratcom” media tactics.

Personally, I see this as little more than a cynical move on the EFF’s part, who are trying to weasel out of having to answer numerous uncomfortable questions about a growing shopping list of alleged crimes, with VBS currently at the top.

So this way of looking at things obviously works well for them, and of course you can’t dismiss it as invalid in its entirety. I noticed yesterday that even people who don’t like Malema at all were criticising Bateman, primarily because of the racial fracture points in our society, which run deep.

It also really doesn’t help that Bateman and his clip are being celebrated by racists everywhere. Screw you guys.

Many of those justifiably fighting for the correction of lingering social structural inequalities didn’t see Bateman’s gaffe as much of a joke. I’ve also seen numerous references on Facebook and Twitter to a time when Bateman apparently referred to Cosas members as “little sh*ts”. So I guess the guy has some real problems now, mainly because he’s working in the political mine field that is South Africa.

It will be interesting to see how all of this plays out. Legally, his employers will have a tough time using this indiscretion as a basis to fire him, regardless of how big the reaction has been.

It’s hard to imagine Bateman being allowed into another EFF press briefing, though. It’s possible that there just might be something else worth reporting on other than the next thing Malema might say. And I’m sure EWN could send someone else. It’s also not a given that Bateman won’t be allowed in, since the EFF lets Pauli van Wyk through the door, and Malema once described her as Satan.

Another thing I was surprised by was the consensus in some quarters that the p-word itself is inherently misogynistic, and that anyone using it in these times of heightened awareness of the abuse and murder of women is, well (let’s say, for argument’s sake) an ass themselves.

As I told a woman who passionately raised this argument with me on Facebook, it’s a fair enough complaint, though it was the last thing I was thinking of. I saw the word as a typical scatological obscenity that has been common to all human societies and languages for all of human history. Pick a language, and there’s probably an equivalent to the p-word in that language, and it’s probably always considered one of the worst things you can utter – specifically because of how shocking it is to verbally desecrate something that can be considered the source of all human life … and is something so closely associated with the person most of us have always loved the most, our mom.

However, it’s also a word that is quite abstracted from its linguistic origins, and I know many strong women who stand for feminist values who don’t automatically equate the word with misogyny regardless of the context it may be used in.

Nevertheless, it is vile, and we do live in society drenched in toxic masculinity and patriarchy, so it is not bad advice to be advised to steer clear of saying it.

There’s also the small matter of Sanef taking the EFF to court for wanting the party’s leaders to denounce a handful of EFF followers who have been abusive and threatening towards journalists – particularly because Barry Bateman is party to the case and is among those who want the EFF to ask people to be nice to them.

I was never a fan of that lawsuit, and it’s looking kind of ridiculous now. But, hey, good luck there.

As a final point, I had quite a few people taking me on for never having jumped to the defence of DJ Fresh when he once used a naughty word on air himself.

I eventually found out what “msunery” means, and I didn’t think DJ Fresh should have been fired for saying it. I probably should have defended the guy too. But he seemed to be getting more than enough support from all over the place, and I would just have been jumping on the bandwagon.

I’m not much of a “bandwagoneer”, and I specifically wanted to defend “Double B” because I thought few other people would, and because, right off the bat, I didn’t think it was such a big deal. And I still don’t.

It’s a distraction from some real issues in this country that we’d all be well advised to get back to worrying about.

I also wrote my column yesterday because I thought it would annoy some people. And I always try to annoy at least someone with every column.

Judging by how many people yesterday were sharing the photo here of me with the caption: “Look at this p**s!”, I certainly succeeded.

Citizen digital editor Charles Cilliers

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