@steve_hofmeyr and #IsItRacism

Weirdly enough, the genesis of this column was when I called Steve Hofmeyr a moron on Twitter. Admittedly, I was provoked by the tweets of one @DieGiel (Gielie Hoffmann in the old style), who sent me a tweet asking me “dink jy @steve_hofmeyr en Annelie Botes vra nodige vrae? Ek dink hul eerlikheid moet ten minste gerespekteer word”.

His tweet was provoked by my incendiary, almost Steve-like tweet, about Racist of the Month Annelie Botes, which was in response to a tweet by writer @LaurenBeukes. I blurted out in exasperation (can you blurt on Twitter?), “it’s ‘honest’ when [Botes] says she hates blacks, it’s ‘lacking in compassion’ when we say we hate racist fucks”.

Ah, social media. Uniting people across the world. A little later, one @TopEditorInt tweeted to me, “When & where did she say she “hates’ blacks. Her words were ‘distrust’ & ‘do not like’. ‘Race hysteria’ = hypocrisy”.

It was a sobering tweet. Botes didn’t say that she hates blacks. Why did I think she had? The answer is simple — because I needed to think that. In South Africa (I can’t speak for elsewhere), saying you dislike a particular race of people in general is racist. It has to be, as you’re making a judgement based on race, rather than individuals. So you might as well be saying you hate them. We don’t have room for wishy-washy racists here — if you’re going to be racist, commit! If a thing’s worth hating, it’s worth hating well, as Adolf Hitler’s ol’ mum used to tell him.

Still, I felt bad at my anger. And then the next thing you know, I’ve been provoked into exasperatedly tweeting “Steve Hofmeyr’s a moron.” To which Steve comments, “Hoesit Chris. Same ol’.”

And Steve is right. It IS the same old thing. Not just in the sense of Steve and I (with me standing in for media in general) yet again crossing blunt knobkierries about the same old issue, but also because this is a tired (sic) and tested way for people who’re feeling marginalised to get noticed.

@DieGiel tweeted, “is daar enigsins ruimte vir Afrikaners om ‘n opinie te lug of ‘n wil om dit aan te hoor?”, which I suppose points to this feeling of frustration. As does @BlkPorcelain’s “I refuse to entertain this Hofmeyr BS. We all know what he is trying to do. Don’t fall for it. From seed to tree. Keep building.” Some would say that the cavilling Afrikaners in question have as much access to the government’s ear as any other citizen, i.e. not much, and they’ll just have to lose their sense of entitlement (ha, right back at you, Steve).

So it’s a tired debate, and yet I felt compelled to comment on it because of my Steve/moron tweet. I felt I’d been unnecessarily rude, and even though my anger might have been — no, was — justified, my rudeness wasn’t. I don’t mind calculated rudeness directed against individuals, but this blanket condemnation is evil.

And I think that’s my main gripe with the Botes and Steves, and yes, the Jujus, of our world. You’re just so damn rude when you tell us that most blacks feel entitled, or that all whites should go back to Zimbabwe where they come from (yes, those are paraphrases).

To quote my own tweet, when someone accused me of wanting to censor Steve and Botes: “I didn’t say they can’t say stupid things. I said, they’re stupid things to say.” and it’s unfortunate that people need to say stupid things in order to get heard, because that’s a strategy that can only be self-defeating. As @DieGiel tweeted, “vir my gaan dit oor die vrae — nie wie wat hoe gese het en hoe dit ge-knock kan word in one-liners nie”. But unfortunately, if you have to be a racist or a buffoon to be heard, soon that’s all that people will hear — racism and buffoonery.

No matter how relevant the questions raised by Botes are — and in their own way, they’re extraordinarily relevant to the ongoing battle against racism — they still sound like the ravings of a bigot. And the same goes for Steve’s little bout of Facebook Fascism. And ultimately, it’s just plain rude to all the South Africans, of all kinds, who are fighting the same things.

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Chris Roper
Chris Roper

Chris Roper was editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian from July 2013 - July 2015.

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