Gareth Cliff to Julius Malema: A case for the thought police?

Believe it or not, I have no opinion on Judge Colin Lamont’s decision to ban a struggle song, advocating the shooting of the “boer”. No indignant outrage, sarcastic reaction or even a satirical response lurking somewhere at the back of my mind ... nothing.

It’s one of the burning issues that one should either be for or against, but I find myself equally convinced by either side: yes, it’s an important struggle song that should be preserved as part of our history. And, yes, it has potential for great harm, and is hugely insensitive given the often racially-motivated murder of farmers in our country.

What’s a young opinionista to do? We live in a country where the likes of me—and you, your best friend, your mum and your dog—all have the right, nay, the duty, to Our Opinion. It’s the Seffrican equivalent of an inalienable right. Keep your dignity and your peace, but leave me my opinion, dammit. We’ll mouth off anywhere: our Twitter accounts, columns (cough) and particularly our radio stations. A pre-requisite is that we do so BEFORE thinking.

Indeed we’re in an age of opinion-overload, I fear. If it’s not Gareth Cliff opining about the sexual activities of most 22-year-old girls it’s a sullen Julius Malema holding a press conference to let his former bromancer Jacob Zuma know there’ll be no red roses forthcoming this year.

Banning the song with the lyrics “shoot the boer” is going to do nothing to help this situation. Instead methinks we should ban shooting our mouth off in general.

Think about it, it would be like a scene out of Minority Report. You’ll be nabbed even before you’re about to say something incredibly stupid; like calling someone the k-word for failing to pay a debt or trying to make the young female philanthropist you’re showcasing look ever better by intimating that other women are whores. And then standing by your statement.

As the rage wells up within you, or the part of your brain dedicated to common sense dozes off, those freaky robot spiders from the movie will be all over you, scanning your retina and probing your over-opinionated brain.

There is a risk the spiders may malfunction in the case of, say, a beauty contest. Take Monday’s Miss Universe. I wasn’t sure which was worse (in keeping with my opinion-less state today): the questions posed to our Miss SA or her answers.

The spiders would come up empty on opinion or general thought process when it comes to beauty queens answering questions while holding their breath and tilting their hair-do at exactly the right angle. It would make the little robot spider wires short-circuit, ending a deadly accurate and sophisticated system of thought policing.

Which is just as well, because life is not like a high-tech science fiction movie, at least not for a good dozen more years. And we shouldn’t need thought police, or court intervention, as is often the case when it comes to the foot-in-mouth disease that plagues our country’s people.

Learning to think before we speak has been relegated to the same rubbish heap of values such as open and humble engagement with those who differ with us. We’d rather earn a few more Twitter followers, enrage a few more people and mouth off about an issue before doing anything as banal as thinking it through.

A little opinion is a dangerous thing, which is why I’m keeping mine to myself this week.

  • Verashni Pillay is the deputy editor of the M&G online. You can read her column every week here, and follow her on Twitter here.

Verashni Pillay

Verashni Pillay

Verashni Pillay is the former editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, and inaugural editor-in chief of Huffington Post South Africa. She has worked at various periods as senior reporter covering politics and general news, specialises in mediamanagement and relishes the task of putting together the right team to create compelling and principled journalism across multiple platforms.  Read more from Verashni Pillay

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