Freedom is not for the sensitive

I live to see the day when it will be okay for a collective to march down a street, say Johannesburg’s Corlett Drive, singing “Shoot the Boer” and it being something that doesn’t signal a march to perdition but a struggle to emancipate the oppressed. But in what kind of forward-going world is that song ever going to be palatable, particularly in a racially obsessed society?

Darren Scott resigned from his job and flushed his long-standing career in broadcasting down the toilet when he said what he was thinking in a drunken moment. Right now, he is probably hunched over a table, shirtless and still flogging himself for his mistake. And so he should be.

Of course, he merely uttered what a lot of people still think. Just the other day some douche with a buzz cut, a matte-black Golf and personalised number plates called me a “fokken kaffir’’ in afternoon traffic. I didn’t react because I didn’t feel the need to affirm his attempt to humiliate me. Also I didn’t really care because his inch-worm mentality precedes him. But that’s beside the point.

If Scott can get so much flak for calling somebody a kaffir, why does the same not apply to people who sing a struggle song that, indeed, is historically significant (the way the use of the word kaffir was) but also purports that Afrikaners or farmers should be shot? Pardon me for thinking along the parameters of our Constitution.

And now there are white people defending black people’s right to sing the song, saying Judge Collin Lamont’s decision to ban the song is an infringement of the freedom of speech. Excuse me, but when the day comes that those words turn to stones, the burning tyres and flying bricks won’t discriminate because of semantics—whether the words Boer or iBhunu encompass all white people and not just an Afrikaner in khaki.

The problem here is that what we think is what we say. Once the milk has been spilled from the bottle, nothing can be done. Fortunately, we live in a country that protects the right to free speech.

Unfortunately, our sensitivity as a society (or lack of it in some cases—see Gareth Cliff and Nonhle Thema) doesn’t allow for this freedom to be fully exploited without somebody going to court, the Broadcasting Complaints Commission or damaging their reputation. And so it should be.

In an ideal world, we would have thought monitors to curb the spread of foot-in-mouth disease. But since that is not an option, we need to address the causes of these issues. It’s easy to lambast or laud somebody who has the audacity to say what others are thinking but it doesn’t change people’s thoughts.

The question is: Can we handle the freedoms that so many died for? Or do we all secretly enjoy watching public spats?

John Galliano, Julius Malema, Darren Scott, Gareth Cliff, Nonhle Thema—foot-in-mouth disease!

Milisuthando Bongela

Milisuthando Bongela

Milisuthando Bongela is the Mail & Guardian's arts and culture editor. She is a multi award-winning writer, blogger and collaborator. She has experience in the arts having worked in fashion, music, art and film as well as a decade-long career in consulting, entrepreneurship, blogging and cultural activism. She is also directing a documentary about hair and black identity, a film she calls the report card on the rainbow nation project. Read more from Milisuthando Bongela


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