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 chrisroper.co.za

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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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