Let's talk about race

Why are we so afraid of admitting our racism/s? Media coverage of racism often extends only to sensational killings or attacks, or the media defending itself against being racist. There is little space for open, honest debate on race, and when there is, where are the voices of ordinary people? And why are the voices so often male? Do women experience racism?

John Matshikiza’s piece (“It’s an age-old song”, June 14) speaks to the dehumanising (and unforgettable) experience of racism at the hands of another black (“Indian”) person. He is using his power to write of his experience.
In writing, he gets to tell his story, I get to learn something more about him. We all, I hope, understand, feel, share, a bit more as a result.

I haven’t heard Mbongeni Ngema’s AmaNdiya, but I was not surprised to hear of its release, and somewhat amused that the ire had not been raised by someone else first. Let’s face it, a song like Ngema’s has been a long time coming.

What I appreciate about his releasing the song, is that Ngema has had the courage to open debate about race and racism in South Africa. Open and honest exchanges on the issues of race and racism are still so tension-charged and defensive in South Africa that I feel grateful to Ngema for putting out there what he sees and perhaps experiences.

In being brave to put his view out there, Ngema challenges us to respond, to have conversations, to talk about racism. And that has to be good. Ngema is using his power as a musician to talk about what he sees.

Ngema’s song challenges South Africans (of all hues) again, to openly talk about our past and our present, how we have been shaped by race in this country and how we continue to be shaped by race.

The media unfortunately only seems able to engage on issues of race when defending itself against racist claims, or when reporting on shock or sensationalist stories involving racist killings and racist attacks. What of the daily, lived experience, the ordinary stories?

If we are to move beyond our racist past and present, we need to all engage with our racisms, share our experiences and pains, and we need the space to do that.

Thank you, John Matshikiza, for sharing your story. Fortunately you have column space to do so. Most of us don’t. Thank you for speaking, for telling your truth. Thank you for using your power to change.—Sarita Ranchod, Cape Town

On pain of being branded an Uncle Tom and an “Indiër boetie”, I am constrained to point out to anti-Indian singer Mbongeni Ngema—with his call to “strong men” from the black African community to take on the Indians for allegedly hampering black economic empowerment—to busy himself with getting on with his life (after Sarafina), as no thinking South African has the time in the present “dog eat dog” age to go around inciting racial hatred.

Although it still pains me to think of the past injustices to blacks by the apartheid system, I can see no point in continually referring to this sad period in the rainbow nation’s history.

After all, if the majority of South Africans can forgive Hansie Cronje and forget his stupidity in illegally wanting to accumulate money, which he was earning enough of, surely the same can be done with those who are suspected of being racist?—Mojaki Abram Modise, Johannesburg

Treat the dead with respect

Gavin Evans’s article (“Two faces of Mokaba”, June 14) on the double life of Peter Mokaba left me cold.

I notice the Mail & Guardian went to great lengths to legitimise its callous and insensitive article. Of course Thabo Mbeki and Sydney Mufamadi, and possibly the public, are aware of Mokaba’s past. I find your angle on the story one-sided and self-serving.Rather than digging up the dirt only a minority is interested in, couldn’t you at least find a more apt send-off for whom a majority of South Africans regard as a hero?

I’m certain that if Mokaba had lived to see what the M&G wrote, he wouldn’t want to waste his last breath responding to your PhD (Pull Him Down) article.

The fact that Mbeki was present at Mokaba’s funeral must be a big blow to the M&G’s assertion and wishes. The public now knows there was no bad blood between Mokaba and the African National Congress. Treat the dead with respect.—Mxolisi Phahlamohlaka, Oakdene, Johannesburg

Not long ago the M&G deservedly received international awards as South Africa’s best newspaper. I am sure many South Africans applauded the paper for such a prestigious achievement because of its investigative and brilliant style of reporting. Most importantly, the M&G gave intellectuals from different orientations the space to engage on topical issues in South Africa and elsewhere in the world. But at present there are many people who are frustrated by the articles in the newspaper.

It has been punctuated by a series of deplorable and exasperating articles from pseudo-intellectuals such as Sipho Seepe and the like. Instead of playing its expected role, the paper placed itself as a megaphone for opponents of the ANC.

Although I do not agree with the call made by the ANC Youth League president, Malusi Gigaba, that the newspaper must be boycotted because of its article on the late Mokaba, his views are the epitome of frustrations shared by many. I, too, was peeved and bamboozled by the article about Comrade Mokaba.—Mpumezo Ralo, University of the Western Cape

A blanket condemnation of an entire newspaper by a single individual who feels that a certain article is not meant for public consumption can only manacle access to information and knowledge. Avid readers of the M&G have an elementary understanding of what constitutes information to be sifted for knowledgeand what qualifies as propaganda.

Even if you publicly decry an idea because of its propagandist sentiment, you must do so through a justifiable counter-argument—more especially if the idea is well-researched. It is high time we stop using the power of office for nefa- rious political purposes.—Mzukisi Phila Skenjana, Centurion

I want to commend the M&G for giving us various views of the truth surrounding Mokaba. It really takes guts.

However, your journalists cleverly avoided the issue of “Kill the Boer ...”

If Mokaba was the strong leader everybody says he was, there must have been some of his followers who were influenced by his slogan. Why does the M&G not explore the damage done to reconciliation by this irresponsible kind of hate speech?

Can you imagine any shrewd overseas businessman investing money in a country where the leaders of government sit listening to their followers inciting others, and each other, to kill the people who are producing food for the nation?

Not one of them reacted. Not one of them said: “We know you are sad and want to pay tribute to Mokaba, but we may never again use these words. We are building a nation, we are asking for ‘simunye’ and ‘ubuntu’. We bring our respects to Mokaba today, but we reject this slogan.”

Let freedom of speech reign and let us challenge the top leaders of the ANC to show that they really mean well with the people of this country. Let them say it: “Stop killing the Boers, the farmers! We need them.”—Concerned South African, Pretoria

As we caught sight of Mokaba’s funeral during a World Cup commercial break, my son De Kock said: “If Rock Hudson and Freddy Mercury had been members of the ANC, they would have also died of natural causes!” I was upset to hear those calls from the crowds of “Kill the Boer, kill the farmer!” De Kock says he hopes the ANC will soon change that to “Kill the virus, kill the syndrome!”—Evita Bezuidenhout, Darling

Poor defence of Israel’s actions

Bev Goldman’s defence of Israel’s aggressive occupation of Palestine (Letters, June 14) is unconvincing. Her statement that Israel is a democratic, internationally recognised state recalls BJ Vorster’s assertions that the apartheid government was democratic. She chooses to overlook the following:

” Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are still violently occupied territories. Military force is Israel’s main instrument of rule. Goldman need look no further for retaliatory violence and “terrorism’s” root cause:occupation. International law endorses resistance to occupation.

” Goldman mistakenly portrays Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) as equal powers, but PA-controlled areas occupy less than 20% of the West Bank and Gaza. The PA may be “in charge” of the population, but it lacks sovereignty over land and borders. Palestine also has no army, whereas nuclear-powered Israel has the region’s strongest force.

” Contra democratic claims, Israel does not define itself as the state of its citizens, but as that of the Jews. What about Palestinian citizens of Israel? Within such parameters, Israel bases itself on exclusionist ethnic and religious domination.

” Yasser Arafat’s problems began when he refused Ehud Barak’s package (Camp David, 2000) of a non-sovereign, truncated “state” and the final termination of all rights in historical Palestine, including that of return.

” The Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be solved if Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders under the “land for peace” formula United Nations resolutions embody. Most of the world’s countries do not recognise Israeli occupation.

” Negotiations must be equitable, not, as previously (Oslo, 1993/94), under a balance of power wholly favouring Israel .

” As negotiations stall, key role-players’ politics polarise: Ariel Sharon wishes to destroy the Oslo accords and the PA as nucleus of a sovereign state, unless he can coopt Arafat into his security apparatus. Should he succeed, “negotiations” may force Palestinians to accept what Israel deigns to grant. Goldman should recognise that this is no “deal”. But she and Zionism’s other supporters (Jewish or not) blame Palestinians for not accepting Barak’s “generous” offer, and recommend they be forced to accept Sharon’s offer.

” Comparing mortality statistics is odious, but for every Israeli killed, six Palestinians are murdered by Israeli soldiers and illegal Jewish settlers on Palestinian land.

And the 280 children—35% of the more than 1 600 mostly civilian Palestinians killed by Israeli fire since September 29 2000? They are not worth a letter from Goldman.—Dr Hanan Awad, Nablus, and Jane Starfield, Johannesburg

Don’t play it again, Sue

Sue Williamson’s inaccuracies about Dak/Art 2002 (“From Euro to Afro”, Friday, May 31) insult the organisers and confirm the growing perception that South Africa, particularly Cape Town, is completely at sea when it comes to art in Africa.

Based on her own issue-chasing preferences, Williamson pretends to unveil a dark, albeit parochial, conspiracy. It might have been worthwhile for her to do some cursory research.

Dak/Art has an open, democratic approach, advertising widely for proposals from artists. This avoids the fenced yards created by curators who seldom allow any wildlife to mingle with their domesticated stock. A large committee of art professionals makes the selection.

According to Williamson, “Africa” is waiting with bated breath for the next Johannesburg Biennale. Disorganised, Francophone Dak/Art, with its highly articulate intellectuals and poets is presumably, to Williamson, a makeshift art shack.

Speakers dismissed the first Johannesburg Biennale as a São Paolo wannabe. They regarded the second as the more useful launch of an African curator, Okwui Enwezor. This probably comes as very bad news in Cape Town, where some had no doubt hoped for another half-century of African victimhood.

My own conclusion from the intellectual proceedings of Dak/Art is for South Africa, like Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca, to let Dak/Art do the thinking for both of us for a while.—Rodney Place, Johannesburg


In the tributes that poured in after Hansie Cronje’s death, it appeared South Africa had forgotten the Hansie-gate scandal.

Hansie achieved the near impossible by reducing South Africa’s tarnished international image to new lows. The scandal made it seem that dishonesty was not only a trademark of some corrupt officials and a small group of criminals.

As a sporting hero, Hansie had a potentially huge positive influence. But he became an embarrassment of international proportions whose legacy is a negative one.

Congratulations to Oom Krisjan and Robert Kirby for not suffering from the collective amnesia.—Cobus Bester, Auckland Park

In brief

Israel has a right to protect its citizens, but erecting fences around Palestinian areas and hoping that this will bring peace is illusary. The problem in the Middle East is not military, it is political. To lessen the problems of security for all in the Middle East, it is imperative that dialogue begins. Negotiations are the only answer to political problems.History is replete withexamples that show military might alone does not work. The collapse of the Soviet bloc, the demise of apartheid and the withdrawal of the United States from Vietnam point to this. Adolf Hitler was defeated militarily because his was a fight for non-political ends, he had no genuine political aims and only needed to satisfy his megalomaniac ambitions.—Thabisi Hoeane, University of the Witwatersrand

Craig Millar of Howick (Letters, June 14) rants on about the South African cricketers being “baboon-whipped by our antipodean cousins down under”. Really? Do the Hawaiians play cricket?—Sandy Virtue, Blairgowrie

In the June 7 issue Lemmer abuses his column, and his readers, degrading the Mail & Guardian with a completely unnecessary and insensitive joke about Hansie Cronje. Nigel Murphy did the same on The Editors. What is it with some of the media people? Is it too much to expect some dignity and respect, in this case, for a grieving family in the very week of their loss? Or is the temptation of a cheap and tacky laugh just too much to resist? A public apology is the least Lemmer and Murphy could do.—Gillian Dugmore, Great Brak River

Please include your name and address. Letters must be received by 5pm Monday. Be as brief as possible. The editor reserves the right to edit letters and to withhold from publication any letter which he believes contains factual inaccuracies, or is based on misrepresentation.

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