South Africa

Backtracking on ‘Boers’, Ramaphosa (kinda) apologises

By Richard Poplak 13 November 2013

In future cultures, will ANC press releases be considered great works of art? RICHARD POPLAK believes they might be.

A couple of days ago, a performance artist named Pyotr Pavlensky nailed his balls to the flagstones in Moscow’s Red Square. Shortly thereafter, Cyril Ramaphosa performed an inadvertent homage, nailing his balls to Seshego, Limpopo. He was in the processing of warning a single mother of three that the National Party was all set to launch a coup d’etat if she didn’t register to vote, when he stumbled into the noisome long drop of his own rhetoric. “If all South Africans don’t vote, we will regress. The Boers will come back to control us”, said he.

Turns out that he was misunderstood.

Due to a flurry of predictable outrage, perpetrated predictably by the likes of myself and other agents either political, journalistic or white, the ANC offered a press release generated by its bug-riddled “Oops” software. Let’s take a look-see:

ANC Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa says it is unfortunate that his use of the term ‘the Boers’ during a recent visit to Limpopo caused offence.

“It is unfortunate that my comments offended some people. They were never intended to be derogatory,” he said.

“In my conversation with a Seshego resident, I warned of the danger of the country going backwards, and used a term that has commonly been used by black South Africans to refer to the erstwhile Apartheid regime. It is a term that continues to be understood in that way.

“My comments were not meant to refer to a particular section of our population, and it is unfortunate if such an impression was created.

“If South Africa is indeed to move forward, all South Africans, regardless of language or background, need to work together as equal citizens. All South Africans need to exercise their vote next year to move the country forward.”

The issue was not, of course, that the term was offensive. (Offensive to whom? I imagine that the large, growing “Boer” cohort would be flattered to be considered so close to power that all it takes to get them out of Orania and into Tshwane is a Seshego resident refusing to register). The issue was that it caused offence. This conveniently shifts the blame from the causer to the cause—it wasn’t how, or even whether, the statement was delivered, but how it was received that resulted in the problems.

In the long history of political apologies, this almost counts as one. In the much shorter history of ameliorating the effects of cheap demagoguery, it barely gets a mention. That said, colour me impressed. By issuing this non-apology, the ANC turn this into a story about a story. They force the Tweeters and journos to get tangled up in semantics, in arguments about whether “Boer” and “Apartheid regime” are actually covalent, in what sort of tomato sauce goes best with chops, in which season of Generations was the strongest. Anything other than what actually counts—that being the policies under which the incumbent party hopes to govern the country should they be elected for another term.

Twenty years, y’all. In fairness, the Boers could never get much done in twenty years—which is why this country resembled a particularly not-so-fun ox wagon dealership in 1989. But others have been luckier. Or savvier. Turkey, China, India, Brazil, Botswana, Kenya, freaking Rwanda. All countries that have come along nicely since 1994. Or think of Germany. As Dr. Martyn Davies of Frontier Advisory likes to point out when trying to shock South Africans out of our collective torpor, in 1989 Germany was two countries, two economies, two outlooks. Now united, it is the shining light of Europe, richer beyond rich, with 45 percent of GDP derived from a manufacturing sector that delivers luxury automobiles to the likes of Cyril Ramaphosa. What did they do right, and we do wrong?

No doubt, Ramaphosa could answer that question. Unfortunately, he is currently too busy nailing his balls to the nearest flagstones. DM

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