I was not surprised when ANC leaders, angered by cartoonist Zapiro, resorted to calling him a racist. After all, there is a tradition in South Africa where black people, unable to come up with a strong enough argument against a white protagonist, almost out of desperation calls the white person a racist.
This, of course, implies an unwritten assumption that black people are not capable of being racist and that all criticism of black people by white people is based on racism.
Well, I think it is time to debunk that myth. Black people can be as racist, or even more racist, than some of the worst white racists.
I see it every day on the Cape Flats where racism between so-called coloureds and Africans are considered the norm. It is not uncommon for coloureds to call Africans derogatory names and it is not unusual for Africans to call coloureds derogatory names.
And it is not uncommon for coloureds and Africans to speak disparagingly about whites or Indians.
I sincerely believe that black people use the race card when they are unable to come up with convincing arguments against white people. This is not to say that sometimes the criticism by white people of black people is not based on racism, but this is not always the case.
I believe that, by calling somebody a racist, it probably says more about you than about the other person.
If, for instance, one looks at the history of someone like Jonathan Shapiro, one would find it strange to consider him a racist. I think he is merely a person who is concerned about the things that are going wrong in our society today and he is reflecting the views of many others, black and white.
The ANC, if it is serious about addressing the concerns of the majority of people, would do well to listen to what Zapiro has to say, to hear what his concerns are, rather than condemning him outright as a racist.
I have known Zapiro since the 1980s — in fact, we gave him first real break in newspapers at the alternative weekly South newspaper — and he has never been anywhere near racist.
In any case, how in heaven’s name are we going to be able to have decent debates in this country if all white people are going to be scared to criticise black people? No one likes to be called a racist, and it is inevitable in South Africa for whites who criticise blacks to be tarnished with that label.
In my book, I try to deal with this issue by confessing that I am a racist. I then go on to say that everyone who lived under apartheid is racist. Once I have done this, I believe that it levels the playing ground for us to have a conversation about race and racism.
And it is important for us to have this conversation. I believe that in our haste to become a “rainbow nation”, we did not deal with the issues that caused us so much pain in the past, and racism is one of those.
Unless we deal with the issues of race and racism, unless we talk about them, they will always come back to haunt us.
Now let’s say this together: I am a racist. You are a racist. Let’s talk.