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A tweeting tit for tat

When the War of the Races hots up the first casualty is the ability to actually listen to what people are saying. The second casualty is the desire to see them as people. I was amused to read the following sentiment on Twitter this week, tweeted by one @AthiGeleba: “Machete Chris and Necklace Eric? What is different?!”

Who the hell is Machete Chris, I wondered, then I realised it was me. It was tweeted just after Eric Miyeni got fired by the Sowetan newspaper because he “crossed the line between robust debate and the condonation of violence”.

How did I become the example of the white guy who gets away with promoting violence, whereas poor Miyeni is the scapegoat just because he is a black guy who thinks that Ferial Haffajee would be improved by a tyre necklace covered in petrol?

Last week I wrote a column on the Mail & Guardian website titled “Machete Racial War 2.0”. It said the following of the ANC Youth League: “Every time you demonise white people, you’re playing into the hands of the racists among us. And that would be racists across the colour board. You’re supposed to be leaders of our youth. Don’t lead them into death.”

Miyeni’s column, titled “Haffajee does it for white masters”, said the following of City Press editor Haffajee: “Who the devil is she anyway, if not a black snake in the grass, deployed by white capital to sow discord among blacks? In the 1980s she’d probably have had a burning tyre around her neck. To hell with Haffajee.”

On the face of it, there is not much similarity in terms of condoning or promoting violence. But acclaimed singer Simphiwe Dana tweeted the following: “@chrisroperza did same as @EricMiyeni when he put the idea of machete-wielding Afrikans into white people’s heads.”

Where I had made my mistake was in not explaining the title of my column. It was a reference to stories run by British tabloids after the killing of Eugene Terre’blanche, claiming that England fans could be caught up in a machete race war at the World Cup in South Africa. The story was stoked by racist rhetoric from both sides of the barbed-wire fence, and my 2011 title was meant to allude to this. It was also intended to demonstrate two things: that people click on stories about violence and that we should not pander to that by ­providing inflammatory ammunition just to serve our own narrow political ends.

Instead of defending Miyeni’s ­article on its merits, or attacking mine on its weaknesses, it is easier to do what the youth league does: turn it into a black-versus-white ­battle. That way, we can ignore Miyeni’s aggressive attack on Haffajee, and instead talk about the whitey who got away with it. Even if there was nothing to get away with. It is sad. And it is not doing our national discourse any damn good at all.

Follow Chris Roper on Twitter @chrisroperza

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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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