Monday, December 6, 2010

A Famous Grouse: December 4, 2010

The most recent Weekend Argus column. -- AD

OH dear, Anneli Botes. What to make of this unfortunate woman and her silly comments? Or better still, what to make of our reaction to her, which, I’d suggest, is more alarming?

To a chattering class that has perhaps grown weary of the cretinous Julius Malema, now the single, overarching symbol of our public life, Botes’ admission, in an interview with Rapport, that she disliked black people because she was scared of them was a welcome diversion, and we fell upon her as if she was the sushi on the girls at Kenny Kunene’s place.

She was, in short, an ignorant racist. Granted, they said, she may be an award-winning novelist, but she was nevertheless an imbecile who had no place among us and should leave the country at once.

There came a deafening and perhaps predictably hypocritical clamour from the usual gang of white commentators who fell over themselves in a self-righteous rush to point out that, no, not all white people were like Botes, and that some were so different, they were even rather special. Bearded sage types like themselves, in fact.

It’s true that much of what Botes had to say about black people was nonsense. Her suggestion that violent crime showed blacks, as a group, were “angry because of their own incompetence” is, frankly, crap. Alarmingly -- for a writer, at least -- she appeared to have no grasp of our history. This is what happens, I suppose, when you live in Port Elizabeth, the singularly most isolated and cloistered white community south of the retirement villages of Bournemouth. But that is another issue for another time, perhaps.

Distressingly, there are those who endorse Botes’ views, who believe her crackpot theories are valid. But we err, perhaps, when we dismiss those who defend her right to freedom of expression as being racist as well. And, here’s a thing, I believe Botes was at least honest in expressing her views, however retarded they may be. It may have made us all feel a whole lot more comfortable, but would it have been better if she had lied?
Which brings me to a point -- what my response would have been if someone had asked me: “Who or what do you fear?” Several probable answers spring almost immediately to mind. Disease, loneliness, violence. All in all, prosaic stuff, and nothing too exciting there, really, so perhaps a better question would be: “What should we fear?”

What about politicians? Should we fear them?

Hmmm. Tricky. Certainly, we should despise politicians, and it is probably our duty to do so. We must keep them at a distance, and at all times deny them access to places where the innocent and the weak are gathered. Schools and hospitals especially.

At worst, politicians are greedy sociopaths and at best . . . well, there is no best. They lie. They steal. They cheat. They are unable to experience any degree of shame. They would sell their own mothers for a packet of cigarettes. Their concern with our wellbeing is that of a fox towards a crippled chicken. And, perhaps their most loathsome attribute -- how they love to bang on and on, like a stuck record, about the national interest.

Think about it. Why must we have a media appeals tribunal, and punish journalists and writers? It’s in the national interest. Why must we have a debate about the role of the media in a post-apartheid democratic society -- a debate, incidentally, in which journalists’ views will almost certainly not be welcome or even considered? It’s in the national interest.

Why the wholesale looting of the country’s mineral resources? Why the shady deals? The nepotism and favours for friends that bedevils our business culture? Why the lack of transparency in our corporate life? It’s in the national interest.

Why must there be moral regeneration? Why all the pastorpreneurs trysting with the gang of thieves in Luthuli House? Why the resurgent discussion about the need for religion in the curricula of our schools? It’s in the national interest.

Why the much-vaunted return to traditional values? Why do we need unelected traditional leaders? Why do we continue to squander public money on parasite kings and feudal royal houses in a constitutional democracy? It’s in the national interest.

The same goes for the the blue-light convoys, the fat salaries, the luxury cars and the costly trips abroad. Ditto the extra ministers and deputy minsters with the result that we have a cabinet that has grown at much the same rate as the girth of Khulubuse Zuma, the president’s Jabba the Hut-like nephew?

The national interest? Fear it.

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