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Gareth Cliff: Who do you think you are?

The funeral of slain soccer star Senzo Meyiwa was barely over when polemic radio jockey Gareth Cliff took to the Twitterverse to ask who was paying for the funeral.

Another South African is lowered into the ground after an act of violence, another family mourns, and another story of our failed collective freedom is written into the pages of history; but Cliff interrupts this moment of silence to ask an important question.

How dare he!

Perhaps Cliff should have waited before asking his questions. Perhaps he should just have kept quiet, because the sanctity of this funeral – which was already marred by the controversy of real life, and obscured by the truth behind the public persona – was to be disrupted even further by an unrelenting, racially-motivated assault on Cliff for asking a tough question.

How dare this white man ask questions?

The real concerns about Cliff’s potential insensitivity are overshadowed by the name-calling, online abuse and racial vitriol. People who were rightly challenging Cliff about the timing of his comments (although even this argument is up for debate) were joined by mobs seeking a kind of misguided racial “justice”. According to the online abusers, Cliff was a disrespectful “white bustard [sic]”; a man who disrespects black voices.

Of course, this online abuse is congruent with that faced by people who speak out against the often violently racist white far-right. After writing about the problematic side of white masculinity and challenging the ideology of whiteness I received death threats, phone calls to my employers, and seemingly relentless online harassment from white racists. I know too many writers and activists who live the terrifying reality of online abuse; theirs is a story of endless police reports and dockets that lead nowhere, anonymous avatars that threaten rape and murder, and a pervasive fear that clicking “send” online will result in even worse.

Online abuse doesn’t serve any purpose other than to silence our voices, and impede our right to speak freely, without fear. In the age of internet bedlam and outrage, the threats and harassment serve as an unacceptable part of the job description for writers, journalists and academics who write about controversial subjects. It is unacceptable for people to turn to racial vitriol because Cliff asks questions and voices opinions which make people uncomfortable.

In fact, we should be worried that so many people felt uncomfortable about this kind of question. Free societies cannot coexist with sacred cows.

Sure, Cliff is a seasoned public personality. And perhaps the abuse and harassment won’t faze him, but I can’t get over the manner in which a legitimate opinion became the source of racially-motivated attacks.

People can’t be outraged when Steve Hofmeyr says ridiculous things, and then speak a similar kind of language a few moments later. We can’t be selectively outraged by the racist white far-right, and simply stand back when some black people on social media engage in exactly the same kind of abuse to silence people. When someone says: Gareth, you’re disrespecting black people by asking this question, they’re actually suggesting white people like Cliff don’t have a right to ask these questions.

Again, free societies can’t coexist with sacred cows.

There are real racists who threaten transformation – and even basic attempts at cohesion – in South Africa. Cliff’s question doesn’t amount to any kind of assault on this transformation. But the people who use racially-motivated online harassment as a means to silence Cliff do threaten transformation and cohesion. I wish the anger directed at Cliff was merely the act of a few trolls. Unfortunately, it’s just another example of illegitimate harassment founded on prejudice.

Moreover, it smacks of an attempt to shut down online debate and free speech.


  • Thorne Godinho has been a struggling freelance writer, blogger and editor for years. He completed his law degree at the University of Pretoria, and is embarking on an LLM focusing on the intersection between law and democracy at the University of Cape Town where he is a Claude Leon Scholar in Constitutional Governance. Thorne is a committed social liberal. He writes in his personal capacity. Follow him on twitter: @ThorneGo.


  1. Zeph Zeph 3 November 2014

    No, no…you do not get it. The White Man’s voice has been silenced on purpose. He is a dirty thing that must not be allowed to speak. He has privilege and a fast car; how dare he have a voice. It is time for the Black Monologue to begin – it dictates no whiteness allowed.

    Jeez man, where did you go to school?

  2. Karl Sittlinger Karl Sittlinger 3 November 2014

    Yes…selective outrage is what I like to call it. And yet there are still people that insist that pulling the race card for just about anything, is not really happening. And of course that only certain races can be racist, while others magically seem to be exempt from this kind of behavior.
    So the question we should be asking: why are some people so offended so quickly, while having no problem dishing it out?
    But I don’t think we need to worry about Gareth…

  3. marty marty 3 November 2014

    yes – who is paying for the funeral ? and why are so many innocent people being killed and why are’nt the police protecting private ciitizens or are they also crooks ?

  4. Momma Cyndi Momma Cyndi 3 November 2014

    Aaah, yes, the Bustard. Largest flying bird in Africa and endangered in many areas. Sounds about right.

    One of the most endearing things about our fellow countrymen is their passion and one of the most disgraceful things is their passion. ‘Tis both a blessing and a curse. Everything becomes personal and heartfelt. That is why people, who never heard of Reeva before her murder, were sending death threats to the judge. That is also why people, who couldn’t find Israel on a map, will sob uncontrollably at the death of a Palestinian. We may be overly emotional but we aren’t boring. The good news is that we are a fickle bunch. We will threaten you today and embrace you tomorrow.

    Of course, you have to take into consideration that anonymity plays a large part. Just look at that woman who committed suicide, when her face was on Sky News, for being so nasty. Having read some of the social media from other countries, we are newbies. I just hope we never become experts.

  5. Gilbert Gilbert 4 November 2014

    Good question Gareth.

  6. ProudlySA ProudlySA 4 November 2014

    The State paid for the funeral. The Province motivated for the provincial funeral. Is there a problem if the Province requested that Meyiwa be honoured?

  7. zoo keeper zoo keeper 4 November 2014

    I don’t often agree with you Thorne but this time you’ve got it spot on in my book.

  8. Norman Norman 4 November 2014

    Do you want to know whose paying for this massive funeral ?
    It’s coming from all our pockets black, white, Asian, coloured and Indians racist or not. I don’t feel that Mr Cliff has to be re educated on the ABCs of democracy. We must all realise that by mere fact that our black government was democratically elected, we give to them the power to spend our money as they see fit, to make instant decisions on our behalf and to insure that the names of our collective heroes
    In this new political dispensation live on forever. The government does not answer to you Gareth nor does the South African public. If such a question was relevant then political parties who act as the opposition have the platform to raise it in parliament. For future purposes can you Gareth avoid these attention seeking question just to remain relevant.

  9. Martin Warburg Martin Warburg 4 November 2014

    What the hell is wrong with asking who pays?
    I want to know too – and I imagine that I (as a taxpayer) might not be getting off scot free because the government always seems to find a way to pick our pockets.
    Good question, Gareth!

  10. Hermann Hermann 4 November 2014

    “often violently racist white far-right” Any proof? There are more often violently racists from the far left blacks on white farmers and other white people. But your voices are silent about this because it is not the politically correct thing to do. Your bosses in high places wont like that will they?

  11. mark mark 4 November 2014

    I enjoy the fact that any dissenting view is labelled as a white voice. The government and civil society are very quick to claim that we are all South Africans, but as soon as somebody says something that doesn’t align with black discourse then it is the work of apartheid sympathisers, white minority capitalists and racists.

    But you ask about the grey area in between? That’s reserved for clever blacks and madame zilles tea girls.

    Ultimately senzo died like every other victim of crime, but the deaths of people I know cant be used as political gerrymandering to gain points with the voter.

    The commodification of murder! who would’ve thought black discourse would stoop to that level. Gillian Schutte was very quick to moan about how madiba was turned from an icon into a commodity, yet where is she on this one?

  12. Yaj Yaj 4 November 2014

    Cliff is smug and irritating at the best of times

  13. Thapedi Thapedi 4 November 2014

    But the man is asking a very relevent question here. some people get angry because they don’t have answers.

    please!!!!!, This has nothing to do with black and white

  14. Momma Cyndi Momma Cyndi 4 November 2014


    You say, “The government does not answer to you …” – well, then it would be a dictatorship or a regency. In a democracy, every citizen has a right to question the decisions of the government. We are their employers. We pay their salaries and we appoint them to do a task. It doesn’t matter if it is a member of parliament or a 5 year old child, the government is answerable to every citizen. When they are appointed to government, they swear to serve the people – not just the people who agree with them or the people who voted for them – ALL the people

  15. Carol Coombe South Africa Carol Coombe South Africa 6 November 2014

    It’s quite proper to ask who is paying for what? Why do American taxpayers pay direct to stop an outbreak of Ebola in West Africa? Why do British taxpayers pay to support in-coming Europeans (EU) in health, education and jobs? I’m not being xenophobic, just practical.

    What is on my middle-class, distressed and put-upon tax-payer’s mind is this question for example: who will pay for what are clearly going to be outrageous maintenance costs at Nkandla when JZ moves on, one way or the other. His unemployed wives and attendants? Other relatives? Nope, I would bet that it is me, my children, and my grandchildren who are going to be paying.

    This makes me exceptionally angry, but I do not know what to do about it. Many of us are internally very angry at this government, and it is small things like ‘who is paying for this’ that stimulate that anger. Perhaps one day it will become outrage, and we will learn once more to be outspoken protesters at our lot in life.

  16. Zeph Zeph 7 November 2014

    @Thapedi – please do not be so naïve – everything in Mzanzi is tainted by race. I wish it was as you state, but it is not.

  17. Zelda Zelda 8 November 2014

    Fikile Mbalula doesn’t understand what an oxymoron is:
    He wants to prescribe to Gareth, what a ‘free, independent thinker’ may/may not say….
    Yet in the old days, was he (Fikile) not one of those who INSISTED his voice be HEARD!
    Isn’t the idea of an independent thinker to enlighten and make us sit up and note our mistakes?

  18. Colin Mateme Colin Mateme 15 November 2014

    Had the question Gareth asked, been asked by a black person, would it be a source of such robust debate? I am a black man and when I saw Senzo’s casket being draped with our flag, I quietly asked myself “Is this man receiving a State funeral”? I said to myself, he probably is because of his role as Bafana Bafana captain, not his role as a Pirates goalkeeper. This (to me), was the only justifiable reason for him getting a State funeral. As I read the commentry in Thoughtleader and I engage many South Africans in my daily life, I realize that South Africans are angry people. We are an angry nation and we have not properly dealt with our anger about our history, and this is clouding our judgement as far as interpreting our current reality and the uncertainty of our future is concerned. I look forward to the day when we interrogate the legitimacy of a question on the basis of its merits, regardless of the race or political affiliation of the person that asked the question? Then I will know that we are healing as a people and we are moving forward. There is nothing wrong with the question Gareth asked.

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