From Dianne Kohler-Barnard to Chris Hart and Penny Sparrow, the rallying call has been for punitive action, namely remove them from their jobs. In addition the discovery that Sparrow is a DA member has prompted the ANC to lodge a complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission pleading the commission to investigate racism within the DA. But it is not just the ANC that felt vindicated, social media was set ablaze as many delighted to have caught the DA with their pants down. The apex of the outrage being the push to criminalise racism.
Below is a list of quotes from high-profile black South Africans whose racial slurs did not elicit the same mass moral outrage we’ve seen in the case of Sparrow, Hart and Justin van Vuuren. Not only was the outrage more muted when weighed against their public profiles and the trio’s relative obscurity but there was no move to beyond an apology and remove them from their posts. Secondly, most of the offenders are ANC members, yet there has been no call to investigate the ANC as a party. Ironically Lindiwe Sisulu, who has called for the Estate Agency Affairs Board to report to her on action that can be taken against Sparrow, is herself a multiple offender when it comes to offensive and racial slurs. This is not a competition premised on who can be more racist, the hope is that the conversation should move away from trying to pathologise one race and painting another as victims. It is not my view that the comments below are all racist, only that they most certainly would have been deemed as such had they come from the mouths of white South Africans.
What better way to showcase the illegitimacy of the recent furore over Chris Hart’s tweet than to begin with Sisulu’s own tweet about entitlement. In July 2014 speaking about plans to eradicate the 2.3 million unit housing backlog she said,
“What makes an 18-year-old think the state owes them a house? It’s a culture of entitlement … we can’t continue with a dependency culture.”
In Parliament in June of the same year she accused Mmusi Maimane of being a “hired native”. The comment was eventually ruled by parliament chairperson Thandi Modise as unparliamentary. It is near improbable that a white MP could get away with calling a black member of parliament a hired native.
In November 2012 in a heated discussion with David Maynier in the National Assembly over chartered jet flights used by the minister, Sisulu retorted
“Keep your flea-infested body at peace and sit down.”
A look at a list of racially provocative slurs would be incomplete without Malema. The leader of the EFF has become more demure in his racial taunts in an attempt to fashion the EFF as a party welcoming to white South Africans. Such is the amnesia that Floyd Shivambu has tweeted “unfortunately the racist statements of #PennySparrow define many white people and DA supporters in SA & the indecisive Gov is complicit”. Shivambu was seated right next to Malema in April 2010 when Malema lashed out at BBC correspondent Jonah Fisher,
“This is a building of a revolutionary party, and you know nothing about the revolution … so here you behave or else you jump … chief can you get security to remove this thing here … and you don’t come here with that tendency, don’t come here with that white tendency, not here … you are a small boy, you cannot do anything.” He concludes this rant by calling him a “bastard” and a “bloody agent”.
Richard Schweid, an author who in his book The Cockroach Papers: A Compendium of History and Lore gives a thorough examination of cockroaches said “if you want to say something nasty about someone, call him a cockroach: that lowest of the low, vilest of the vile, most easily eliminated without a pang of remorse, the cheapest of all lives”. In October 2010 addressing a crowd in Stellenbosch Malema called Helen Zille a cockroach.
“If Zille had her way, she would declare the Western Cape an independent republic. You have put a cockroach in Cabinet and we need to remove that cockroach by voting the ANC into power.”
Penny Sparrow took a feather from Malema’s cap it would seem, again deriding Zille he said in April 2012,
“Have you ever seen an ugly woman in a blue dress dancing like a monkey because she is looking for votes?”
But Malema’s ire is not reserved only for his white political opponents, in May 2011 speaking of his refusal to debate Lindiwe Mazibuko he said,
“She is a tea girl of the madame, and her role must remain there in the kitchen for making the tea for the madame. Because that’s what she chose for herself. So I am not going to be debating with servants for the madame.”
Malema is not the only one fond of calling his opponents cockroaches. The “joke” was turned on him in February last year when the speaker of the National Assembly speaking at the Mmabatho Civic Centre in Mafikeng said,
“We all need to [work] … because if we don’t we will continue to have the cockroaches like the Malemas … roaming all over the place.”
Speaking in Nelspruit in 2009, the Mpumalanga ANC Youth League secretary spoke of those who had defected to the Congress of the People (Cope) saying,
“Everyone knows that Cope was formed by insects that are hell-bent on holding onto power”, and would be “sprayed with Doom until it perishes”.
Before calling them insects he had also said “not one of those mad dogs who defected from the ANC and formed the Assembly of Polokwane Losers should get anything”.
September 2009 Congress of the People youth leader Anele Mda and member of Parliament calls the Cope deputy secretary general Deidre Carter a “stupid, white token bitch”.
At the time Charlotte Lobe, Cope general secretary, made a statement that it was a once-off incident and speaking of the two-month suspension of Mda said, “this is not punishment, it is rehabilitation”. In 2011 Mda was welcomed back to the ANC with open arms at an announcement where Jacob Zuma was present.
Jimmy Manyi, the then director general at the department labour, appeared on kykNet in March 2010. He spoke of coloured people in the Western Cape saying,
“This over-concentration of coloured people in the Western Cape is not working for them …they are in over-supply where they are.”
This illustration here is added last, as an example of how black South Africans even outside of the political space can make racially dubious remarks in the name of humour. Not incidentally I have no objections to making fun of our racial insecurities, the trouble is that a white person would not get away with making the comments Dlanga does in this November 2008 YouTube video titled “I want to marry a white woman”.
“Black women do not like it one bit when brothers are into white women … I have noticed, especially the last few years that when a black man marry white woman they seem to create this super child. So I want to have my own little tribe of super children … this is my evidence; look at Barack Obama his father is a black man, his mother is a white woman.”
Based on the reactions to this week’s accused trio, if the proposed criminalisation of race were in place when the above comments were made many prominent black South Africans would have been charged. This is not including the many unknown black South Africans like Velaphi Khumalo, whose social media profiles are yet to be scanned. If we will not abandon the obsession with our racial identities, then at the very least perhaps we can lay bare the hypocrisy and dishonesty of treating black South Africans as the victims.
We’re all suffering from living in a country absolutely mad about race. Now that we’re all victims perhaps we can stop the finger wagging and conjuring of absurd laws and set our sights back on more productive areas of outrage and policy innovation such as the economy (myself included).