Robert Brand
Robert Brand

Save us from the Save David Bullard brigade

By Robert Brand and Anne Taylor

We’ve had to put up with David Bullard for years, so it was with delight that we heard he’d been fired. But it seems there are those who are rallying to his defence, citing Machiavellian corporate and political machinations as the real reason for his axing.

It’s all bullshit, of course. David Bullard was fired for writing a column in which he described blacks as being lazy, incapable of technological advancement, genocidal, primitive and clueless — all the while waiting for someone else to blame for their misfortunes.

That is racist.

So, imagine you’re at a dinner party where you come face to face with a Bullard supporter. Here’s our quick guide on how to respond to “Bring back Bullard” arguments:

1. The Sunday Times fired Bullard because he is critical of the government and the ANC
That is preposterous. The newspaper itself is the government’s most vocal critic. Yes, the ANC hates the Sunday Times — but that’s not because of Bullard; it is because of its editor, Mondli Makhanya.

The column is not in any way critical of the ANC or the government. All it does is make some deeply offensive comments about Africans.

2. It’s a free-speech issue
Yes, it’s a free country and you can say what you want. You’re even allowed to insult and offend people. But nowhere in the Constitution does it say you have the right to share your prejudices with the more than three million readers of the country’s biggest newspaper.

3. David Bullard is the new Deon Maas
He is not. Tim du Plessis, the editor of Rapport, first defended Maas’s column — and then caved in after a small minority of its readers launched an SMS campaign to boycott the paper. Du Plessis then fired Maas, citing commercial reasons. In so doing, Du Plessis compromised his own editorial independence.

Makhanya, on the other hand, is exercising his prerogative as editor of the newspaper. He fired Bullard for editorial reasons. Makhanya is on the record as saying that it was his own decision. In other words, he is doing his job — asserting his editorial independence.

The Bullard saga should rather be compared to the firing of Jon Qwelane from the Star some years back, after readers complained about what they regarded as racist rantings against whites. We can’t remember too many white people complaining about that.

4. The real reason Bullard was fired was that he was critical of Avusa
It seems the cocktail-party rumour mill has thrown up that Bullard was actually fired because of a column in Empire magazine, in which he criticised Avusa, the publishers of the Sunday Times.

This is a serious allegation as it undermines Makhanya’s integrity. Nobody has provided a shred of evidence to back up this rumour. Makhanya, however, is quoted — on the record — as saying that his decision had nothing to do with the Empire article.

5. The Sunday Times will lose sales
Some have suggested that the Sunday Times will “undoubtedly” lose sales, especially among upper LSM readers, because of Bullard’s exit. Sure, perhaps some white readers will stop reading the paper. But what about all the black readers that Bullard’s column has alienated over the years?

6. If you’re offended by Bullard, you don’t have a sense of humour
Playing the sense of humour card is no different to playing the race card. Just because something is funny doesn’t make it acceptable. We’ve all laughed at inappropriate jokes. But we don’t put them in the newspaper. Political satire is not a licence to be racist. (This argument would have more force if Bullard’s column had actually been funny.)

  • katse

    There’s still a bunch of DB’s that are awaiting elimination without any remorse. Thanks GOD not all the apples are rotten, we still have the sober minded Roberts.

    No excuses about his attacks, he’s always been ironic, it’s only now that he came out of the closet.

    You know what? he will soon be smoking that Ciggar out to lunch with those like him.

  • http://blogs.thetimes.co.za/britten Sarah Britten

    Brand and Taylor seem very confident about the reasons for Bullard’s sacking. Perhaps they should attend more Joburg cocktail parties; the issue with ST management has been rumbling for months. A more interesting question to ask is: if the editor did not see it, who let this piece through? Did anyone read it before it went to some underpaid, overworked subeditor?

    It really is very convenient that an annoying thorn in the flesh should write exactly the kind of article that gets him fired for a reason with which no right-thinking South African could disagree.

  • John D Rockerfeller

    Call a man a racist and you can do anything to him. You don’t have to pay any attention to what he said, because what he wrote is tainted, evil, polluted, and your lily white liberal credentials could get stained with racism if you even read it. For our next lesson: how to identify witches.

  • http://blogs.thetimes.co.za/britten Sarah Britten

    Ndumiso Ngcobo was proposing a coconut witch hunt just the other day. I propose another test for coconuts: hook them up to a brain scanning device, show them a picture of David Bullard and examine which areas of the brain light up. If the response is not entirely negative, it can be concluded that there are dangerous coconut tendencies and ideological realignment will be required.

  • Doug from Holfontein

    Two eggs, two slices of toast and a cappuccino: R34.00

    A copy of the Sunday Times: R11.50

    The look on Mondli’s face as he read the article at the Sunday breakfast table: Priceless

    Some things you can’t buy, for everything else there is the “Racecard”.

  • http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/annetaylor Anne Taylor

    Just noticed that Ivo Vegter has posted a copy of David Bullard’s column for Empire magazine. Follow the links from here: http://ivo.co.za/2008/04/13/david-bullards-column-in-empire/

  • Billy C

    I’m surprised there’s such a hoo-hah about David Bullard. ST demoted him to the front page of the business segment which cut readership to LSM 8+ only – a kind of elite wilderness, pandering only to humourless accountants and actuaries, which left Fred Khumalo in populist ST centre stage (and Fred cruelly rubbed it in with some glee) . If you ask me DB was just seeing how far he could push his luck, before he got his “storm in a teacup” DCM (don’t come Monday). The ensuing controversy has ensured his desirability to the Baked Bean Brigade.

    A coconut witch hunt is a brilliant idea. Traditional healers could adapt the Salem sniffing out methods and apply these to modern day SA. Suspected Coconuts would be dunked in the sea – preferably at Snake Park beach where all the voodoo rituals are performed. If the suspect floats and strikes out for Australia in a measured breast stroke – he’s a coconut for sure (or maybe one of the Shaik brothers). If the suspect sinks like a fisherman’s lead sinker, he’s an African’s African

  • http://ctscribbler.blog247.co.za Odette

    In this week’s Sunday Times Mondli Makhanya takes full responsibility for the publication of the offending column. He states that their systems failed but, as editor, the buck stops with him and he takes full responsibility. Whether there is anything more to it than that I don’t know and judging by the comments here and elsewhere, neither does anyone else. There is only speculation. Entertaining speculation, but only speculation nevertheless.

    As I mentioned in another post by Alex Forest. I thought DB’s piece was childish and spiteful. I was offended but I exercised my democratic right to move on to something else. DB is a talented writer and I often enjoyed his columns and his turn of phrase, even when I didn’t agree with him.

    I think he was way off the mark with his most recent attempt but I would much rather have seen other able writers do public battle with him than see him fired. As it is, he can now claim to be a victim. Instead, we could have seen his views being put to the test.

  • Brent

    Satire, grim humour!!!!! many a true word said in jest????

    The different races in SA still creep around each other nervous to tell ‘our’ truths. One way is to stir up a storm by upsetting all the tight lipped old Biddies and getting an honest and fierce debate going. DB’s article, whilst not good, did just this.

    So if good/great is the yardstick of what gets printed or not we will have very little to read.

    Brent

  • Jonathan

    Interesting, that some people keep mentioning that “after David’s attack, he became a racist monster.”

    Any guesses as to how many people this is happening to on a daily basis, and i am obviously not only alluding to whites only. Many people are becoming victims of crime, and are turning racist.

    The only difference here, is that David Bullard had a platform to articulate his feelings and his viewpoints, which obviously changed since his attack.

    Imagine for a moment that everyone who has been a victim of crime could wrte articles for the Sunday Times.

    It would be 40 000 pages long.

  • Luddite

    To all those whiners quoting Orwell and citing censorship:
    I’d like to know how many Letters to the Editor you wrote or anti-censorship protests you took part in 15+ years ago? The firing of 1 boring, insensitive writer is hardly a landmark event on a slight to fascism/socialism/Sino-Soviet communist republic/Zimbabwe (it’s difficult to keep up with the fear-mongers as to which dreadful future we are imminently about to become).

    To all those pro-colonialist:
    Arguing through counter-factuals is always a terribly weak argument. No one is arguing against the beneficial by-products of the system. However, they should not be used as a justification for a system of oppression. In a similar way that Nazi Germany made many contributions to the modern world (rocketry, jet-propulsion, numerous medical advances, and the Olympic torch relay), but no one would dare use them to justify that regime.

    The Sunday Times was always a mediocre paper but at last they have finally done something right.

  • http://amapencils.blogspot.com Mhlanguli Ncube

    Now that DB has gone, I shall start reading The Times!

  • http://www.nickvanderleek.com Nick

    Your statement “David Bullard is a racist” needs to be examined. Did it take 14 years to discover this? If so, then who is more liable, Bullard or the person who employed Bullard? He is not a racist, but he sometimes – often – makes racially sensitive remarks. That was his job.

  • http://thoughtleader.co.za/jonathanberger Jonathan Berger

    Once again, Mondli Makhanya shows his courage, integrity and commitment to constitutional values. Good on him for not allowing an impoverished understanding of freedom of speech to undermine decent journalism. Good on Robert and Anne for bringing sanity to this online debate.

  • Ali

    I myself think very little of white racists, especially afrikanners. They think they are gods and superior to any other race…They still hold our economy because of the inheritance from their forefathers of the apartheid era.
    “That’s my opinion but if I were to write that on any of my official reports, I’d definitely get axed, whether my supervisor was also negligent in just signing off without checking the political correctness.
    People should refrain from writing stupid articles.”

    This is one person reacting somwhere above me. It is a (to use a term very often bandied about) rabidly racist opinion? Why are people allowed to say things like this on Thoughtleader? I am an Afrikaner and I take offense. For damn sure.

    Anyway – Bullard was out of line, but Makhanya was incompetent for not reading his most controversial columnist’s work. Editors should not be incompetent.

  • http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/annetaylor Anne Taylor

    Thanks for the responses to this post. A few comments:

    We were mistaken when we said David Bullard was fired from the Sunday Times. His column was axed. There’s an important difference.

    Thanks for pointing out Bullard’s deteriorating mindset since last year’s shooting. It does seem that he became more bitter and angrier. But I stand by the argument that although many of us may think racist thoughts, that doesn’t give us the right to publish them in a newspaper.

    Many commentators are hinting at “management” issues and interferences. Could someone from Avusa let us know what’s going on? If there is a conspiracy, then surely it should be exposed? Evidence, please.

    Look, I’m not trying to imply things were rosy between Bullard and Avusa. But the closest I’ve got to finding out what really happened is from someone who is pretty close to the editorial process. He insists that while Avusa may indeed have wanted to get rid of Bullard, Makhanya acted independently to axe his column as he believed it was racist.

    And, lastly, I definitely agree that it was calamitous that the column was not pulled before it was published. Mondli has admitted that the editorial systems failed. As editor, he is responsible for everything in his newspaper. So, yes, that was a mistake that I am sure the editorial staff at the Sunday Times all regret.

  • Van Wyk

    I think I largely agree with Robert and Anne, but there is that one question I’d like to have them answer: Was it fair of the editor to a column and then fire the columnist afterwards? The difference with the Qwelane case is that editors can’t stop radio journalists from making certain comments live on air, whereas newspaper editors can refuse to publish certain articles. In this respect, at least, Tim du Plessis has set an earlier good example: When Dan Roodt offered a racist column for publication, Du Plessis refused to publish it AND fires Roodt. (By the way, I see Roodt is one of those demanding that Bullard be reinstated.)

    Van Wyk

  • nijowa

    Very suprised that none of your correspondents brought up the fact that David Bullard was shot in his home last year – do you all just forget about this type of thing!!
    WHO SHOT DAVID BULLARD WITH A GUN?
    Did the bullets hit him? Yes
    Could he have been killed? Yes
    Why did they shoot him? No-one knows
    Who is investigating his shooting? No-one knows
    Who shot him????????

  • Brent

    Robert/Anne,

    You guys just don’t get the big picture. Wether DB was good, bad, irritating or in most peoples opinion racist is still no reason for firing. For your info he was just as irritating to ‘white’ rulers/leaders and thus for him to hold back on Black leaders would be racism as this would mean he thought less of them.

    A lesson from Rhodesia/Zim to illistrate why it is dangerous to get rid of irritating un-loved writers.

    Peter Neusiwant (spelling?) was the Wests media hero in +- 1978/9 as he fought Smith to publish the truth about what was going on in the war there – in fact he won numerous awards and Smith’s gang were forced to back down by world pressure.

    Less than 3 years after that Bob M issued an order forbidding publication of the fact that the N. Korean’s were traning the 5th Brigade. A courageous women editor of the Umtali Times ignored Bob and published this TRUTH. The results:

    – Umtali Times closed down and said editor out of job – bet no one can remember her name!!!!
    – deafening silence woldwide
    – Bob continues on his way and we know the result now

    Most dictators start with small deeds, that get bigger and bigger as they get bolder as no one does anything

    Brent

  • Paul Whelan

    Well-intentioned people like Robert Brand and Anne Taylor do not seem to understand that there is no logical limit to censorship. Find it ‘right’ or ‘acceptable’ to censor or ban or punish one opinion today and you have no grounds left to object to censoring and banning another opinion tomorrow, which you may not be so hot to agree with.

    When did the idea that people should be coerced for their beliefs first enter the world? Where has it ever produced more good than harm down the ages?

    Axeing DB has been a desperately sorry episode for all concerned, stirring prejudice and duplicity, hate and sanctimoniousness in equal proportions. Above, Anne even sees an important difference between firing DB and ending his column. That is a defence of the editor and management, an explanation of what happened?

    SA’s ‘democracy’ has far to go, as do our tolerance and understanding of each other.

  • Daemos1

    I’m in total agreement, it was irresponsible journalism at best. Even worse, it was a bad peice of writing, probably conceived in a post whiskey and cigar binge stupor. Farewell David and good riddance.

  • http://amandzing.wordpress.com Amandzing

    Makhanya claims a ‘special relaltionship’ with columnists. Nonsense, it only means he abdicated responsibility in his duties as editor in chief. Did none of the sub-editors, wip, proof readers, news editors, copy editors, pick up on the supposed problem? At the end of the day, Makhanya is supposed to sign off on copy before it goes to production. Is he actually capable of doing the job, or is he just window dressing? Bullards article did not appear on the page by magic.

  • Bheka Mkhize

    @nijowa
    What a coincidence. My cousin was also shot in his home last year. Very suprised that none of your correspondents brought up the fact that my cousin was shot in his home last year – do you all just forget about this type of thing!!
    WHO SHOT MY COUSIN WITH A GUN?
    Did the bullets hit him? Yes
    Could he have been killed? Yes
    Why did they shoot him? No-one knows
    Who is investigating his shooting? No-one knows
    Who shot him????????

    Maybe you can tell us more nijowa!

  • Sindy

    The chickens had come home to roost with the Sunday Times.’Hitler’ views showcased a National Newspaper!! Laughable? No insulting all other nations including whites.No human being could support trash.Sunday Times woke up late!! They fought JZ (they still owe him by the way) back to back with his staffer little did they know that he was seeing them as baby-makers like Zuma…..What an insults!! Now we know that we still have such people in Newspaper!! They are the ones (claimed majority) fighting for Media independence against black Journos and want the Scorpions intact!! Hey Sunday Times will realise late as to why they want Scorpions like they did now with the recent statements.There are Blacks and Whites who love this country!!!They will die for it side by side! To hell with lunatics.Alunta!!!

  • Dithabana

    Some people here are not encouraging the right use of their own minds really.

    I am black and I loved David’s column a lot but I slowly started to hate his it shortly after he was shot. Why he increasinly continued impartiality and blatantly submitted racist articles so he was putting the Paper on the spot and someone had to deal with that.

  • katse

    Dithabana,

    It’s amen now, the chap has apologised, no more fuss about the in defence of Bullardism hype.

    Thanks Robert for being sober minded.

  • Errol

    Concerning point 6, “Playing the sense of humour card is no different to playing the race card.” Does that mean that we’ll see more local comedians taken to the SAHRC just because someone can’t handle fantasy?

  • Nicholas

    Bullard definately overstepped the mark, his piece came across shabby and badly researched. One can take into account that bullard is a tongue in cheek columnist and that his satiristic writing has been accepted and of course the freedom of expression argument can be taken into account, the more important question however should be, why did the subs and editor not pick up the problem before going to print? This is after all procedure. Is it viable to say there is more than one person to blame for the publication of the piece? Should it have been allowed to go to print in the first place?

  • Martha Evans

    I don’t know what the editorial policy for the Sunday Times is but I suspect that different rules apply for columnists. Columns are not the same as a news articles which can held up against the objectivity yardstick and scoured for legal gremlins. It’s an opinion piece. Few sub-editors are going to stand up and say, “Er, David, I don’t like your opinion in this one, perhaps you could write another … and can you do it in the three hours we have left before we go to print?” As a columnist, he’s expected to police himself. In his apology, he talks about reading the distressed replies to the column, not just raised hackles, but genuine voices of hurt There were surely such responses to earlier columns and these should have been taken as warning signs that his portrayals were becoming deeply offensive. He occupies this privileged position because the editor trusts that he’ll do this. By apologising Bullard practically confesses to abusing that trust.

  • Allan Troskie

    Did the Makhanya only find out what was in Bullard’s article after it became a public issue? Or was he fired for writing something that was approved by the editorial team? Seems as though Makhanya bowed to some pressure… A column designed to spark controversy and that is funny is a good thing, but where is humor a prerequisite for political/social criticism??? So jump up onto your high horses and scream racist, Bullard knows he’s right and so do those of us with functioning grey matter and a lack of the amazing faculty to bend over forwards, backwards and sideways to please the ANC. Or, for that matter, any other blacks in power who don’t deserve it and thus make doubly sure that no-one gainsays them… I pity you hand-puppets. History is written by the victors mayhaps, but that only changes the history textbooks not the actual facts…

  • Melanie

    Alas, jealousy makes people nasty. Take that any which way you will.