Zindzi Mandela Phumzile van Damme and Steve Hofmeyr – three names I never thought I’d use together in a sentence. But this is a real South African story – a story about race, pain, privilege and land.
This is a story I wish I could start with “long ago and far away…” but at times our divisions just seem to tear us apart instead of unite us as a nation. Just when I think that we are getting our racial stuff sorted out somebody pours petrol on the smouldering embers and whoosh! We have a huge runaway fire.
As the flames crackle, burning all in their path, the words jump around angrily on Twitter with accusations and counter accusations; with threats and taunts. Of course there are always those who want to be heroes who jump in, hoping the tensions will amplify their own message.
Freedom of Speech
I want to just lay this out right here upfront – I believe that everybody has the right to say what they want to say – that is one of our rights in a Democracy. I also believe that we have to all take responsibility for our words and action, always. (Don’t shout fire in a crowded theatre, screams in my head).
As a white South African, who is without question a beneficiary off apartheid, I cannot feel or imagine anybody’s pain, but I can be sensitive to it and acknowledge the terrible generational destructive power of Colonialism and apartheid. I know that some pain and anger can never go away.
I had a friend who was a child in the Netherlands during the war. When I met her she was a wealthy middle aged woman living in Durban. She never ever bought a German car or had anything German in her house. She told me that if she just heard a German accent, it was as if a switch flipped and she was back in the atrocities of the war, a terrified kid.
The Zindzi Mandela Story
So if Zindzi Mandela needs to vent, my first thought is of her pain, not who the hell she is to think she can say such terrible stuff about white people as many white people wrote on Twitter.
I know that she knows that all white people aren’t the same. We aren’t all “land thieves”. This was a rant, not exactly language suited to a diplomat, but not anything new. Sadly most white people in South Africa still haven’t come to terms with the end of apartheid and their privilege. And whether you like Zindzi and want to protect her or believe she should be fired, what she said is real. These are issues we have to address.
Our past is messy and painful and I really believe that most South Africans have some kind of buy in for a better future for us all. But we have still got plenty of cleaning up to do to deal with our past. Critical is that we to deal with the land issue – not just white South Africans, but our democratically elected government needs to do much better.
The Phumzile van Damme Story
Phumzile van Damme is another story. She says a white family was harassing her at the V&A Waterfront and racially taunting her so eventually she punched one of them. Ms van Damme, I want to quote the words of Judge Judy “you cannot lay a hand on other people”.
Shame on the white family. (Unfortunately these kind of people will always be with us – racism seems to be a flaw built into our human construction). Shame on the establishment for not training its staff to deal with issues like this. They should have simply asked the insulting white family to leave. And shame on Phumzile, a member of parliament, who has been in the public eye for some time now for reacting like she did.
I also agree that 25 years into liberation one should be able to enjoy a life in public without being racially abused! The V&A subsequently issued an apology, admitting it did not handle the incident correctly. And the white family – who knows?
The Steve Hofmeyr Story
And now Steve Hofmeyr. He is certainly allowed, like Zindzi and Phumzile to say what he feels and believes, but like them, he has to take responsibility for his words.
He has been picking at this issue on Twitter for days, retweeting his right-wing activist support group, Afriforum, applauding Donald Trump, mocking Phumzile and then yesterday, posting the most disgraceful chest- beating –white- man -tweet I’ve seen –.
This tweet is right out of 60s white South Africa Baas- lexicon:
Dear Phumzile van Damme and Zindzi Mandela, I’m a South African tax-paying citizen. Effectively, I AM your boss. You WILL jump when I say so and you WILL ask how high. And when you come to take our lives and land, you WILL die. Our contract is that simple. And don’t you forget it.”
I shudder when I read it, not only for the words, but especially the tone. Steve Hofmeyr is a skilled communicator – did he not think about what he was writing or is he so desperate for attention or is this how he really sees the world? We may share pigmentation, but he is not my tribe1
Hofmeyr’s words make horrible goose bumps crawl up my neck. And you know as I read his tweet I wonder how he ever understood that either Zindzi or Phumzile were “coming to take our land.”
Uncomfortable with Divisive Rhetoric
We live in a volatile world underwritten by bad economic times and racial and cultural divides.
Personally I am uncomfortable with behaviour, words or talk that hurts, insults and incites – even if it is just on Twitter. And I worry about it because we have an example in real time. Since Donald Trump’s administration took office promoting racial inequality and xenophobia, hate crimes in the US have soared.
“The FBI released the latest data compiled via its uniform crime reporting (UCR) program about bias-motivated incidents throughout the nation. The 2017 data, submitted by 16,149 law enforcement agencies (up from 15,254 agencies in 2016), provide information about the offenses, victims, offenders and locations of hate crimes, the FBI said.
There were 7,106 single-bias incidents involving 8,493 victims, the FBI reported on Tuesday.
Almost 60% of victims were targeted because of bias against race, ethnicity or ancestry bias. A fifth were targeted because of the offenders’ religious bias and 15.8% were victimized because of the offenders’ sexual-orientation bias. Just under 2% of victims documented in the report were targeted because of a disability or a bias against gender identity.”
The African National congress (ANC) has said that it will lay a charge against Steve Hofmeyr on Monday 24 June “for his racist rants and issuing of death threats against South Africa’s ambassador to Denmark, Zindzi Mandela-Hlongwane and DA MP Phumzile van Damme.”