Monkey Business

It’s time we faced the fact. The default position for most South African politicians is “scumbag”, and their automatic level of discourse is “childish”. I had to think carefully about using the word childish. It smacks of paternalism, and of that endless Western quest to stereotype Africans as children and noble savages. But thankfully, youthful leaguer Julius Malema has freed us all up to be as rambunctiously offensive as we wish, as long as we don’t name names.

So when he described a mysterious “ugly” woman in a blue dress dancing like a monkey while looking for election votes, it could have been any monkey. And in the same vein, when I refer to “childish” politicians, I am of course not referring to anyone whom we might take to be real, like the Youthful League’s Julius Malema.

I am also not referring to “Lousy” Floyd Shivambu (so named because of his predilection for describing the media as lousy, which I assume is an implicit criticism of our Department of Health as well as the level of hygiene in newsrooms). No, if you happen to think that “Nyeh nyeh nyeh” is a useful response by the ANCYL-biters to the Star‘s apology for some shoddy journalism, then you’ll also know that I can’t possibly be referring to Juju and Floyd as childish.

In much the same way, young Shivambu’s description of Independent Newspapers journalist Carien Du Plessis as a “white bitch” could have been meant for any white bitch, I’m sure. And he didn’t call her a black bitch, which would have been racist. There’s a certain delicious irony, of course, in the fact that white ideologues have spent so much time trying to ensure that whiteness is defined as normal, with the result that unthinking people would define black bitch as racist, but white bitch as sexist. But a country where some racism is seen as worse than others seems a high price to pay for having fun with irony.

Alas. Politicians are the new whores, and racism is the new black. Sex workers used to be the old whores, of course, but now they’re given a modicum of respect as sex workers, and thankfully we live in a society where feminism has made some inroads into rampant patriarchy. Not as many we would like, of course. Julius Malema still feels it’s entirely appropriate to insult Helen Zille based on her looks, and to compliment Angie Motshekga, the president of the ANC Woman’s League, on her beauty. Yes, black chicks of the ANC, you’re super hot! Keep on voting for us! A vote for the ANC is a vote to keep dicks in power! And by dicks, I refer to phallocentric morons. Again, I’m playing the Malema card. No names, no comeback. I could be talking about anyone, right?

Why are politicians whores? Because they’re playing into an evil system where you are compelled to sell your soul to survive, and to ensure the survival of that system. Well, I say compelled — I’m sure the majority of our soulless civic leaders are all too eager to strip down to their Burberry g-strings, hold their noses, and leap into the gravy trough to frolic with wild abandon. Why am I using the decidedly un-pc term whore as a metaphor? Because apparently we can forget about fighting this battle with reason and intellect. It’s “know your enemy” time. Will politicians ever be called sex workers? I hope so, because that’ll mean that democracy has made the same strides as the current social contract that is problematised patriarchy, moving from a position where only a few are privileged, to one where everyone has a role to play. But let’s not hold our breath.

There’ll be a lot written this week about whether it’s racist for a black man to refer to a white woman as a monkey. We know — if by “know” we mean unconscious received wisdom — that it would be racist to call Juju a monkey. But is it racist to call Helen Zille a monkey? Oh, who cares. By this stage South African politicians have so debased and devalued the issue of racism, the general populace thinks Affirmative Action is some sort of reality show on DSTV. That’s the real crime here — in a country where race and racism are very real and important issues, our scumbag politicians have turned them into childish insults in a schoolyard.

  • Follow Chris on Twitter @chrisroperza, or visit his blog

  • Subscribe to the M&G

    These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

    The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

    Chris Roper
    Chris Roper

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

    Related stories

    South Africa prioritises fossil fuels over clean energy in post-Covid-19 recovery packages

    The country is among the G20 countries who have invested in electricity produced from coal, oil and gas at the cost of addressing climate change

    Challenges and opportunities for telemedicine in Africa

    Telemedicine in Africa is currently limited by the availability of basic infrastructure, but, considering the lack of doctors in rural areas, it is a vital component in addressing the continent’s healthcare needs

    Fight the disease of corruption in the same way we fight the coronavirus

    Gogo Dlamini, Themba Dlamini’s mother, died of Covid-19, but Mzanzi has a chance to rid the country of fraud and exploitation and instead serve ‘Gogo Dlamini’, the people of South Africa

    This time it’s different: African economies may not survive

    Amid the headwinds created by the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s time the Aloe ferox, which survives in dry, harsh conditions, is nurtured — but the options are limited

    The SADC will regret its approach to Mozambique’s insurgence

    The SADC has been lackadaisical in its response to the insurgency in Mozambique and in so doing, is putting several other southern African countries at risk

    EXCLUSIVE: OR Tambo’s forgotten speech at Chatham House

    ‘The choice we are faced with is to submit or fight’

    Western Cape warned not to be complacent about flat-lining Covid-19...

    The Western Cape, which once had the highest number of Covid-19 cases in South Africa, is seeing a steady decline in active cases

    Sisulu axes another water board

    Umgeni Water’s board in KwaZulu-Natal was appointed irregularly by her predecessor, the water and sanitation minister claims

    press releases

    Loading latest Press Releases…

    The best local and international journalism

    handpicked and in your inbox every weekday