I have a friend who has a problem with his blood pressure. It is dangerously high and it doesn’t help that he seldom exercises and continues to smoke. But mostly he blames Julius Malema for getting his pulse racing.
For some reason my friend is unable to see what Malema represents. He views almost every single utterance from the mind of Julius as some sort of national crisis instead of the oft ill-considered musings of a young, ambitious and pushy hothead.
Malema makes for good headlines, he’s a media milch cow and that is why he vaults so often onto the news pages a bit like Paris Hilton or Herschel Gibbs when he’s behaving badly.
What is interesting is the sense of personal outrage so many (mostly) white people feel when individuals like Judges Nkola Motata or John Hlope, Malema or Paul Ngobeni (the new legal advisor to Minister of Defence and Military Veterans) lash out or resort to the race card to sometimes cover for their own agendas.
Why are some white people surprised that not all black South Africans are ready to forgive, forget and that there are many people who find it difficult to journey to some sort of rainbow political utopia?
It is much more difficult to when large sections of your fellow citizens believe that nothing they have done needs forgiving. So we are trapped in a sort of public picking at old scabs.
There are many, many South Africans who carry deep historic wounds and pain and while most of us understand the current national non-racial democratic project, it is inevitable that these hurts will find a voice in public.
There will always be extremes in the debate on race in this country. Brandon Huntley and Dan Roodt occupy one pole while the Malemas and others have seized the other end. Both forces attempt to use race mobilization to stir up the political dust. But the point is, are we surprised?
And how should we “hear” these voices? Should we just dismiss them or should we try and understand the root of the anger and the fear?
Most importantly we should allow these voices their expression. As long as they do not incite violence, we should accept them as part of the deal.
The fantastic thing about South Africa is that there are enough sane and considered voices between these two extremes. And these are the voices that ultimately win the day.
One of the most intelligent and insightful pieces published in a long while is an essay “Of Pretence and Protest” by the ever-perceptive Professor Njabulo S Ndebele in the special Mail and Guardian “race” issue. Read the full text here.
My advice to my friend is to stop taking everything that happens in public life so personally. Once you do that it is easier to try and explore why an opinion may unhinge or unsettle us. Sometimes it is simply because we see ourselves – albeit unconsciously - in the very thing we loathe and despise.
How should we respond to people like Dan Roodt and Julius Malema?