“Manto is dead. Good. A selfish and wicked bungler of the lowest order. Rotten attitude and rancid livers — all 3 of them … ” These were the words written by Gareth Cliff on Twitter yesterday upon finding out that the former and much vilified South African minister of health, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang had passed away. These words might end up burying him alive, not just because we are intolerant of other people’s views, it’s the lack of compassion that we find difficult to stomach.

After an overwhelming number of people attacked him for his comments he wrote the following, “Why do people think the dead deserve respect? They’re dead. Even the law is unequivocal: dead people have no rights”. Well Mr Cliff, if you think the dead have no rights try necrophilia and see if you don’t get arrested when caught. The dead have rights. If you think they don’t deserve them at least respect those who are mourning. This was a woman with children, relatives and a large family, she has done many good things too in her life.

We have long tolerated Gareth Cliff, earlier this year when Mike Tyson’s four-year-old daughter died, he wrote on twitter that he couldn’t believe that people were mourning the death of a member of the Tyson household. Of course we will not dishonour his death by saying the things he said about others when his time comes.

A gentleman by the name Clive Simkins then defended Gareth and said to me, “Truth must always triumph over ‘compassion’ or we live a lie”. Truth and compassion are not contradictory virtues. One can be truthful and compassionate at the same time. Just as one can be truthful and still be merciful towards Manto, no matter how angry one is at the policy she had to push. Mercy means ceasing to hate. What is the point of hating a dead person? What makes us human and makes us better than who we are is forgiving the unforgivable. This is why so many hold Nelson Mandela in such high regard. As La Rochefoucauld once said, “We forgive so long as we love”. Much anger I sense, anger leads to the dark side Gareth, I’m sure Master Yoda would have said that to you.

In fact I think that a vast majority of people if they saw George Bush dangling on the edge of a cliff they would reach out to save him. That is mercy. When it is our power to show mercy we show it, even if it is to someone who never showed it to us.

Before I go into my next my phase of this blog I want to make it unequivocally clear that I am not turning this into a racial debate because I know someone will see it fit to pretend that’s what I am turning this into. Now that I have cleared my disclaimer let me make my point. The vast majority who expressed their disapproval of what Gareth Cliff said on Twitter were black. As we know, there is no other racial group that is as affected by Aids as black people in this country. If we who have been affected can find it in our hearts to be generous towards her family in this time and to honour her in death what gives him the right to say the things he has said? I suppose what gives him the right is the fact that our Constitution does in fact give him the right to express these views which are completely foreign in African culture.

This is not really about what Gareth said, it’s about how we respond when people say things we find offensive. Then the second issue at play is tolerance. What do we tolerate? Do we only tolerate those things we accept? But then again, one does not need to tolerate what one already accepts. We tolerate the things we don’t agree with. Tolerance in itself, if you indulge me, is a bit condescending. It conveys the impression that the views being expressed are in fact inferior, it implies that you are wrong but I will humour you. So Gareth, we tolerate you.

Now, should he be fired for saying what he wrote on Twitter? Probably not because he didn’t say those statements on air, on his radio show. Perhaps he should show that he has balls by repeating them on air and we see how big of a man he really is.

Gareth Cliff expressed an opinion which some of us found morally reprehensible. The problem with opinions is that people state them as fact. He declared his opinion so factually (even though opinions in themselves are just uncertain beliefs) as if what he said was a certainty. Not only that, he stated that the dead do not have rights before the law, which is in fact not accurate as I previously stated with the necrophilia example.

I must admit, even I once wrote a blog I called, “Sometimes I wish Mugabe were dead”. But it was my wish that had he died earlier he would have left a far greater legacy. Not because I wanted him to die.

If he said what he said simply to get attention, he got it. Sometimes people who thrive on controversy, or who say controversial things, are quick to use the bullet-proof vest of freedom of expression. I do not and will never deny anyone the freedom to express themselves.

At times, people like Gareth who say the most outrageous things are quick to put themselves on a crucifix and hide behind the veil of misunderstanding because they claim to be saying what everyone is thinking but is too afraid to say. The stupid public does not understand that what they have just said is the truth. We simply are those people who do not understand that we are being saved from our stupidity and blindness. Self-created martyrs who have built their own pedestals, but they are only martyrs unto themselves.

My emotional response tells me that he should be fired. My rational response tells me he should not. We should show him the mercy and forgiveness he refuses to give to the dead. And Gareth, we demand an apology but I know what we’ll get is a show of unprecedented display of sanctimony because, as you will tell us, what you said is true and you don’t need to apologise, in that case then the SABC should let you go.

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Khaya Dlanga

Khaya Dlanga

Khaya Dlanga* By day he perpetuates the evils of capitalism by making consumers feel insecure (he makes ads). For this he has been rewarded with numerous Loerie awards, Cannes Gold, several Eagle awards...

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