Riaan Wolmarans
Riaan Wolmarans

May these sheep all run off a cliff

I hate sheep. Afrikaans sheep, to be exact, and more specifically, Christian Afrikaans sheep.

Some excellent thoughts have been shared on Thought Leader in the past week on Rapport editor Tim du Plessis’s firing of columnist Deon Maas for sharing his thoughts on satanism, resulting in a vehement SMS and email campaign by readers that eventually targeted the paper’s “commercial interests”.

This raised questions about editorial independence at Media24, freedom of the media, freedom of expression and freedom of religion. Mail & Guardian editor Ferial Haffajee correctly compared Rapport‘s position with the hot water in which the M&G found itself some time ago for publishing a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad. The M&G didn’t fire anyone. Pierre de Vos had good points on the rights issues, such as the freedom to practise the religion of one’s choice.

But my personal alarm over this incident relates very much to my identity.

I’m a white, Afrikaans South African, born into a Christian family with whom I spent many hours in the oppressively conservative Nederduits Hervormde Kerk. One side of my family falls decidedly more to the right than the other: spending time with some relatives on that side, I can expect to be confronted with the k-word rather quickly.

If that’s not bad enough, these relatives all, somehow, believe that because I share a skin tone and some childhood values with them, I will nudge, wink, moan and chuckle along as they spew forth racism. To argue with them is to be drawn into an endless loop of pessimism and warped logic.

This brings us back to satanism. I read Deon Maas’s column and found it interesting. I would have published it on the Mail & Guardian Online, had he been my columnist. Maas provokes; this much I have gathered from seeing him as an Idols judge on TV and reading his contributions in Beeld. In his Rapport column, he shared some tongue-in-cheek thoughts and pertinent points about freedom of religion and expression.

I didn’t feel like painting my nails black, burning a Bible or slitting a sacrificial baby’s throat after reading it, funnily enough. Yet apparently thousands upon thousands of white, Afrikaans Christians now fear the end of the world is nigh because someone dared write a column in which satanism wasn’t derided as the sin to end all sins.

When I first received an email from someone telling me to boycott Rapport over Maas, I cringed as I do when those godawful ads come on SABC television for Afrikaans CDs titled Stamptreffers 3 or Ry Haar, Bokkie. What must other cultures think of us Afrikaans folk? As if apartheid didn’t leave us looking rather silly already, now comes these self-proclaimed saviours of our souls and with their sanctimonious, badly spelled SMSs pretend they know better than the rest of us.

These people (and perhaps Leon Schuster too) are to my cultural identity what suicide bombers are to Muslims. Many of those who blindly forwarded the SMSs and emails likely didn’t even read the column in Rapport — hence my sheep analogy above.

Like my right-wing relatives, they expect me, too, to rise up in indignation with them, but they only succeed in making me want to rise up against them. As Pierre de Vos said, if only they employed the same fervour in trying to feed the hungry, combat Aids or oppose child molestation. It’s so very sad.