Monday, March 20, 2017


Dear Lovers of Free Speech,
          The Letter’s Column in today’s The Times puts Helen Zille’s controversial tweet about colonialism being not all bad into the right perspective.
          It mirrored exactly what happens on social media and in the press in South Africa.
          If you are Black your freedom of speech, which can be just as controversial, if not more so than Zille’s tweet, can be a lot more free than if you are White saying much the same thing. And racialism as well as other kinds of prejudice is also far more serious if you are White than if you are Black.
          Under the heading Zille:Racist or truth teller? there were five letters on the subject. The first three broadly speaking supporting Zille’s view appeared to be from Whites with the last two from Blacks joining the hysteria about her remarks.

          The most telling one from Louis highlighted what the wild dogs of the media conveniently ignored when jumping on the #ZilleMustGo bandwagon.
          He pointed out that in the Saturday Star of February 4 Kabelo Chabala, who is clearly Black, wrote: “The truth is South Africa and many other African countries are better because of colonialism.  We are better developed because of the infrastructure that was built by colonisers.”
          So there are some Blacks who can see exactly what Zille was talking about through the prejudice.
          “The reaction? Not an indignant squeak,” was Louis’ comment. He added, “In the new South Africa everybody has a place. And Whites’ place is in the wrong even when we are in the right.”

          Significantly Chabala’s very balanced view appeared in Saturday Star more than a month before Zille’s tweet on 16 March. And when our impartial media that is always looking for the truth, was doing its utmost to cash in on the social network frenzy that Zille caused, did anyone hunt him down for a more extensive interview. If they did I can’t find it anywhere. 
          Social media appears to have been ominously quiet when the long running case against Jon Qwelane, the veteran journalist notorious for his homophobic views, came up again. The Times tucked the story away under the innocuous heading ‘Hate speech laws not consistent’ on one side of Page 6. A day later Zille’s crime was splashed across the front page headlined: Zille’s tweet too far.
          Compare his case with that of Penny Sparrow, an elderly, sickly former estate agent. She got into trouble early in 2016 for her tweet complaining about hordes of “monkeys” being allowed to mess up Durban’s beaches over New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
          Within months she was fined R150 000 by an Equity Court with a further R5 000 in a Magistrates Court for the criminal offence of crimen injuria.
          Qwelane made his own headlines in 2008 when he outraged the gay community with a column in the Sunday Sun entitled Call me names but gay is NOT okay.
He has yet to be found guilty and sentenced, 8 years after the column appeared.
          In it he lauded Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe’s anti gay stance. He went on to complain that “you regularly see men kissing other men in public and shamefully flaunting what are misleadingly termed their ‘sexual preferences.’”
          He lambasted the constitution and wrote that he prayed the politicians would have “the balls” to rewrite it “to excise those sections which give license to men marrying other men, and ditto women.
          “Otherwise at this rate,” he went on, “how soon before some idiot demands to ‘marry’ an animal and that this constitution ‘allows’ it. And by the way tell the Human Rights Commission that I totally refuse to withdraw or apologise for my views, because wrong is wrong.”          
          Our own President Jacob Zuma appears to have agreed with Qwelane because in 2010, while at least one court case against him was pending, he appointed the scribe as the South African Ambassador to Uganda. Evidently in his wisdom our President felt that Qwelane would feel at home there because Uganda has outlawed homosexuality with life imprisonment being the penalty for those who transgress. The previous death sentence was apparently considered too harsh.
          In 2011 a South African Equity Court ordered him to pay R100 000 towards a gay rights group and to apologise to that community. His was a much more serious offence than Sparrow’s when one considers not only what he wrote, but that the Sunday Sun has a readership of over 2-million. In addition he made it clear that he had no intention of apologising, whereas Sparrow did just that.
          The South African Human Rights Commission received a record 350 complaints about Qwelane’s column. That’s how bad it was yet the Equity Court showed, by the penalty it arrived at that his offence was not regarded as seriously as Sparrow’s. Did his colour stand him in good stead?  
          The newspaper, which is in the Media 24 stable, printed an apology but why it was never charged for carrying such obviously contentious muck, only the state will know. Qwelane on the other hand won’t say sorry. He believes what the paper did was enough.
          That was not the end of the story. The Equity Court’s finding was annulled because Qwelane was not at the hearing as he was conveniently in Uganda at the time.
The Human Rights Commission then took up the case in which he has been challenging his conviction in the Johannesburg High Court on the basis that the parts of the Equity Act, under which he was found guilty, infringed his right to free speech.
          Various hearings have been held, sometimes without him as he claimed he was ill and it still hasn’t ended. It just goes on and on.      

          It’s a very far cry from the almost instant “justice” meted out to the little old White lady who didn’t have an editor or sub-editor to vet her thoughtless tweet before she let it loose on the world.
          There are only one or two African countries that have never been colonised. So perhaps somebody should see if their infrastructure and other facilities are up to the standard of the ones that have. But I don’t think the colonialism-was-all-bad school would want that. It might just blow their case.
          If colonialism and apartheid had nothing to commend them what will the plusses be for South Africa by grabbing prosperous farms without compensation and an affirmative action policy that rewards people essentially on colour rather than ability?  
          Jon, who believes that if all South African’s media showed the same social media maturity as Panyaza Lesufi ( most mature social media user ) we would all be a lot better off. He’s BLACK by the way.

P.S. Helen Zille is the 66 year old Premier of the Western Cape and the former leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance party.

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