Opinionista Ryland Fisher 22 September 2015

Give #DearYusuf a break

There is a tendency that I have noticed over the past few years in our country where we do not tolerate dissenting or opposing views. Quite often our response to someone’s contribution is based on their race, their political background or where they fit within certain factions of some political parties. Surely, this cannot be healthy.

Yusuf Abramjee, crime fighter by day and newsman by night (or sometimes the other way around), is not someone who I would describe as a friend. Instead, I would probably describe him at best as an acquaintance. We have bumped into each other several times but have never had a cup of coffee together.

I have realised over the years that Abramjee has the ability to rub people up the wrong way. This is expected from someone who is arguably among one of the best self-promoters in South Africa. Abramjee is a prominent person in LeadSA and one of the leaders of Crime Line. He also works for a Gauteng-based media company and is a vociferous tweeter and Facebook poster.

His latest bit of self-promoting, however, has gained him many critics, especially among supporters of the ANC. Abramjee wrote an open letter/petition calling on President Zuma to address the crime situation in South Africa.

The letter contains personal experiences of crime, written in emotional language. Abramjee starts off by saying that he was writing this letter “in desperation” and ends of with some suggestions on what the President can possibly do to advance the fight against crime.

After his letter, the hashtag #DearMrPresident started trending on Twitter. Very soon after that, however, some ANC supporters started the hashtag #DearYusuf in which they responded to Abramjee’s letter.

The #DearYusuf comments soon became personal, questioned his political ambitions and alluded to his questionable past, including his support for the National Party in the apartheid days and the fact that his father represented Indians in the tricameral parliament.

All of this may or may not be true, but facts have never stood in the way of a good Twitter hashtag.

Soon, there were more comments supporting #DearYusuf than in support of his original #DearMrPresident appeal.

I don’t completely agree with Abramjee, even though I am as concerned as everyone else about how crime is eroding the fabric of our society. Like many South Africans, my family and I have been the victims of crime. Like many crime survivor, we have been told that we are lucky not to have lost our lives but only some valuable possessions. But this is something to explore at some other time.

For now, I am very concerned about the personal nature of some of the attacks against Abramjee. I got a sense, from reading many of the Twitter comments, that most people did not read his open letter but was merely following the lead of their friends or acquaintances.

There are a few issues that have been raised by this saga.

The one thing is the assumption that struggle credentials, or lack thereof, should still matter 21 years into our democracy.

I am one of those who was upset, even angry, when the ANC decided to embrace homeland and tricameral leaders after the organisation was unbanned because we had fought against these people in the trenches. I also feel that there are many people whose contribution to the struggle have gone unnoticed and should be recorded.

But, surely, we should have learnt by now that many people who have impeccable struggle credentials have also completely gone off the rails and their recent actions and activities would not hold up to political scrutiny.

Many of them have forgotten about the values that we held dear during the struggle years and have put personal political and economic ambition ahead of the interests of the broader South African population.

Should such people hold a more exalted position in our democracy than people who might have been on “the wrong side” during the apartheid years but are now making a significant contribution to our democracy?

One also needs to bear in mind that many people who served the old National Party went on to be rewarded with senior positions in government and in the ANC. Some of them are still in their prominent positions.

ANC supporters who point fingers at “struggle sell-outs”, which Abramjee may or may not have been, must be wary that there are more fingers pointing back at their comrades with similar pasts.

The other issue that the Abramjee saga has raised is the assumption that anybody who criticises the President or the ANC are necessarily against the President and the ANC. I support the President and the ANC but I too have concerns about the way they have handled many crucial issues, and I know many comrades who share my concerns.

My fear, after seeing the response to Abramjee’s letter, is that there are other people, many of them progressive, who might feel that the government is not doing enough about crime and other issues, but they will now not be prepared to speak out.

There is a tendency that I have noticed over the past few years in our country where we do not tolerate dissenting or opposing views. Quite often our response to someone’s contribution is based on their race, their political background or where they fit within certain factions of some political parties.

Surely, this cannot be healthy.

If we are to find solutions to the many problems that we still face in our country – and crime is but one – then we need to learn to listen to each other despite our backgrounds and our histories. We need to learn to listen to each other’s suggestions irrespective of the political parties that we support.

We need to start accepting that being a member of one side does not automatically make you a good person just as being a member of the other side does not automatically make you a bad person. There are good and bad people in all political parties. The challenge is to identify the good ones and to work with them to find solutions to our country’s problems.

I sincerely believe that while Yusuf Abramjee can be accused of many things, with arrogance being high on the list, I don’t believe he can be accused of being unpatriotic. DM

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