Defend Truth


Just who do we think we are?

Sipho Hlongwane is a writer and columnist for Daily Maverick. His other work interests also include motoring, music and technology, for which he has some awards. In a previous life, he drove forklift trucks, hosted radio shows, waited tables, and was once bitten by a large monitor lizard on his ankle. It hurt a lot. Arsenal Football Club is his only permanent obsession. He appears in these pages as a political correspondent.

Delusions of grandeur haunt this country like an angry man from the East Rand who wears a goatee. But in the greater scheme of things, we’re really not that important. Remembering that would do us all a lot of good.

Steve Hofmeyr is a decent metaphor for this country. Nobody can ever encapsulate this diverse and divergent land and its people in a single net (“District 9” came very close, but even that couldn’t quite do it), but for the purposes of the point I am about to make, our angry Boer karaoke artist will do.

It seems as if we have being granting Hofmeyr an undeserved amount of intelligence. Not the IQ and the maths type, but the type that really matters when dealing with political issues: Emotional intelligence. I can imagine him leaping off his motorcycle (or whatever the favoured form of transport is on that side of the highway) in a furious rage as he spotted the Sunday Times billboard that declared “Bono guides Juju” and the online article headline “Bono backs Malema’s ‘Shoot the Boer’ song”. And then flinging his precious U2 concert tickets into the poor Jukskei River. And then letting the world know about his good deed. The hubris of it all.

At no point are we given the impression that Hofmeyr stops to think that maybe Bono was completely misquoted (or indeed that “Ayesaba Amagwala” is not Juju’s song). Nor are we given any indication that the man made any attempt to find out exactly what Bono said. It doesn’t seem to cross Hofmeyr’s mind that Bono may be – what’s the word? – too damn important to concern himself with South Africa’s “Shoot the Boer” controversy.

No, what’s important is that we should all know that Hofmeyr “learned him good”.

As the world later found out, Bono found out about the controversy much later, and was puzzled that there had been any controversy at all. All he said was that struggle songs have a place and it’s probably not a good idea to sing them in public (especially in the context of post-apartheid South Africa and modern Ireland). Not even the most rabid khaki-wearer can argue against the truth of that.

The nuance of the actual conversation between the U2 frontman and the journalists with whom he had dinner is a lot more profound as it later transpired, but thanks to Hofmeyr’s stupidity, the entire debacle descended into supposed Bono’s opinion of an extremely childish debate we’re all having locally.

The entire incident, of course, is underpinned by the assumption that the world cares about our little squabbles in South Africa. I don’t particularly like U2’s music, and I have quite a few problems with what Bono has come to represent in terms of aid to Africa, but there’s no denying that he is a very important man worldwide. Is there any consideration of that fact when we try to ram him into our petty local rows?

I’m terribly conflicted about why exactly we are like this, whether it is because of an overblown sense of importance bred by our history and nurtured by our seclusion at the bottom of Africa, or whether it’s more a case of fawning provinciality.
South Africa’s yearning to inject itself into any matter of international importance is embarrassing.

When the story of the Chilean miners stuck underground captivated the entire world, we prodded and pried until we found how we could make it about South Africa. Ooh look, we crowed, Murray & Roberts rescued the miners! South Africa saved the day!

And when we can’t somehow make it all about us, we don’t care. Take Egypt, for example. Beyond Andile Lungisa’s contention that the wasteful NYDA festival had somehow sparked the revolts in Egypt and Tunisia, how much gesture did the Maghreb revolutions get from our government or our institutions of democracy? A negligible amount.

The sad fact is Bono doesn’t care about Steve Hofmeyr. And the world doesn’t care that much about South Africa either. The end of apartheid and Mandela and all that was a cute story, the World Cup 2010 too, but the world will get over it soon enough and CNN’s camera crews will move on. We should be focusing our strengths on learning from the world, not the other way around. It would be quite an education. China could teach us that it takes a bit more than a goose step and big words to run a planned economy. England could school us on the benefits of having a logical and coherent immigration policy. From America we could learn that the issue of racism takes a lot of time and patience to solve. Argentina could show us what the dangers of personality-driven politics are.

If only we could understand that we’re not at the centre of the known universe. It’s a big world, chaps, and we’re just a tiny part of it. Time for us to wake up. DM


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