On 7 November 2000, the SABC programme “Special Assignment”, broadcast a video which showed six white policemen setting their dogs on three black people suspected of being illegal immigrants. The video had all the elements of racially motivated horror and didn’t fail to electrify all of South Africa. At the time, Twitter and Facebook were still non-existent and the word “viral” mostly had meaning in medical science.
The video had been recorded years prior, but the eruption it caused was as if something had been bubbling underground like a volcano. It was one of those few times in our history when we thought we faced civil war. Probably as bad as the day Janusz Walus shot Chris Hani seven years earlier. Black people were outraged. White people were terrified. South Africans from all corners came out to condemn the act and isolated the perpetrators completely.
One caller to a radio station mumbled among apparent tears of shock and horror, “The people who did that are not human. They do not represent white South Africans”.
It was a bleak day in South Africa and one of the first times in post-apartheid South Africa when we were faced with the reality that racism and all its cruelty was alive. There were reports that farmers had dragged people behind bakkies, shop keepers had shot teenagers for stealing bread or thinking they were baboons, but we’d only heard about these, and not seen them live on television. It was real, and the hate of racism among some South Africans was clear in the eyes of the police displayed on that video.
What stood out for me were comments by then premier of Western Cape, Nomaindia Mfeketho. She asked a question, which we all should ask ourselves as we choose positions for or against Jimmy Manyi and Kuli Roberts: “When our friends, family or colleagues make racist or prejudicial comments, where do we stand and how do we respond?”
I know many people who agree fully with Kuli Robert’s observations, although I know a few who share Manyi’s views too. But one thing is for sure, until these voices were subjected to national outrage, most of us were complicit in one way or the other. Suddenly, our stomachs were too weak to hold the sheer disgust of their words.
I don’t know if anyone heard the recording of Jimmy Manyi at the chamber of commerce in KwaZulu-Natal, but as he spoke, there was laughter from the audience. Unless Indians had begun their dispersion into the rest of the country, one can safely assume a handful of the people in that audience were Indian. And they were not the kind of Indian incapable of writing a letter to a newspaper or lodging a complaint with the Human Rights Commission.
When Manyi appeared on that TV programme, people were watching. It may not have been black people, but one can also assume that there were a handful of coloured people watching. Again, the kind that can afford satellite television, who can tweet, have Facebook pages and write letters of discontent, whether as coloured people, or defenders of the Constitution.
So before we jump on the band wagon of weak stomachs, maybe some personal reflection is called for.
When people express “divergent views”, they do so because they know they have some support. No one stands in front of a room full of people and says something he knows will turn everyone’s stomach, unless they are fools. And if they are fools, then we needn’t be having this discussion.
Both Kuli and Jimmy expressed views they knew would and had previously found a nodding audience.
I’m arguing that what Mfeketho was getting at in 2000 was that the police shown on the video were not lonesome digressers who had personal and hidden agendas of hatred and brutality against black people. They were members of families and friends to people with whom they’d shared racial slurs and prejudices. And others agreed with them and cheered them on.
No different to Kuli and Jimmy who too had privately shared the views they later aired in public, and received none of the violent contradiction they are now undergoing. This is true of other incidents, including the Reitz debacle.
I may have said nothing new here, except to highlight that unless you’ve contradicted a friend, colleague or family members who said something racist or racially prejudiced, you have no place in criticising Jimmy Manyi or Kuli Roberts. I’ve also not said anything about whether Roberts or Manyi are racists. I don’t want to argue whether their being black exempts them from being racist. I’m just saying people who are outraged about Roberts and Manyi need to look inside themselves, and make a change. And don’t even get me started on the editors. DM