An outstanding example of racist thinking - Helen Zille

The DA leader's reply to criticism from The Star columnist Heidi Holland

Ironically, in seeking to be a champion of non-racialism, Heidi Holland provides an outstanding example of racist thinking in its purest form. ('A disservice to white citizens,' The Star May 21 2009)

Holland's article is based on the following premise:  if a person (who happens to be white) criticizes the behaviour of another person (who happens to be black) the white person speaks for all whites in criticizing all blacks.  Because of the history of apartheid, no white has the right to do this.  If they do, they are racist, and doing a disservice to all whites.

They must therefore apologise.  (A black person, according to an inversion of this logic, faces no such constraint.)

This kind of racism was rife in the early years of our democracy.  It relegated whites to "second class citizens", unable to state a fact if any black person might be offended by it.  This warped logic has thankfully diminished somewhat due to many (black and white) South Africans rejecting it for the nonsense that it is.

It is difficult to reach consensus on a definition of racism, but most people agree that it starts with generalizations.  It involves projecting the attributes of an individual onto a group as a whole on the basis of race, with pejorative connotations.  Heidi Holland's narrative is a classic example of this kind of racist thinking.

She uses it make the argument that I should apologise, on behalf of all whites, for my criticism of Jacob Zuma.  Whether I was telling the truth about Jacob Zuma having put his wives at risk by having unprotected sex with an HIV+ woman is irrelevant.  So is the fact that this was one sentence in a logically structured letter to a newspaper in response to a vicious personal attack on myself.  Holland's point is simply this:  as a white, I have no right to criticize the President's behaviour.

What I said about Zuma was not only a fact; it was mild compared to what journalists (and many others) have repeatedly said about him.

This is what the Pretoria News had to say after Zuma's conduct and attitudes towards women were revealed in court:

"The story of  [Zuma's] actions on that fateful night last year is a sad reflection on the former deputy president's morals and code of conduct. Zuma is not fit to lead a country where women's rights are high on the agenda, where the fight against Aids is, or should be, an urgent national priority and where the protection of the weak and vulnerable is the duty of the powerful. South Africa deserves a president who can lead by example. Jacob Zuma has shown he cannot do that."

The Pretoria News' words were far harsher than mine.  But maybe the editorial writer was black, which means (according to Holland's logic) he is allowed to say things that I am not.

Let's look at the Sunday Times on the same subject

"As [Zuma] tries to draw a false screen of moral relativism across his record, we would do well to continue to hold him to account for his own behaviour. In proclaiming, during his artfully choreographed public apology, that he was just a human being, Zuma sought to drag all of us down to his own level of moral turpitude. That is an offensive defence that denigrates every man who would have offered the accuser the help then that Zuma now sanctimoniously proclaims she deserves. If Zuma believes all human beings are as much victims of their appetites as he is, then he is even less deserving of respect than his trial suggests."

When I read what the Sunday Times said about Jacob Zuma before the election, its ongoing campaign against me for voicing more muted criticism is interesting indeed.  Perhaps Holland's logic is at work here as well: because the editor is black, he is allowed to say things that I am not.

Or is it because as a woman, I must respect the taboos around male sexuality?  These taboos are a key component of gender oppression.  They conveniently prevent women from challenging the belief, widely held by many men, that frequent, unprotected sexual encounters are their right.  When I confronted this belief, I became the subject of such a tirade of vicious misogynistic hate-speech, that I began to understand why so many women prefer to focus on monitoring quotas rather than dealing with the real causes of gender oppression.

The real issues gender activists should be addressing were contained in the mind-numbing results of research released at Stellenbosch University recently.  This includes the chilling fact that the statutory rape of children has become commonplace in our society; and that one third of young people believe you can prevent AIDS by taking a shower after sex or by taking a pill.  These findings went unnoticed in the froth whipped up about the composition of the Western Cape cabinet.

But the height of irrationality in Holland's piece is her reflections on her recent sojourn in Norway.  In that country, she suggests, my "bigotry" would not have been tolerated.  Excuse me?  Is she suggesting that in Norway, people would keep quiet if their President had behaved the same way as ours in relation to women or in his financial dealings?  Is she suggesting Norwegians could have kept a polite silence if their Presidential candidate faced charges on some 763 counts of corruption, fraud, racketeering, money laundering (conveniently withdrawn 3 weeks before an election?)  I venture to suggest that in Norway, it would be inconceivable for a person with a record such as Jacob Zuma to have become a serious candidate for leadership in the first place.   Their constitution is a living document, where people
seek to practice what they preach.

In South Africa, our constitution is often a thin veneer over the brutal reality.  The unspoken rule is:  never scratch below the surface.  If you dare to do so, you will be bludgeoned into silence.  This is the message Heidi Holland tried to send me this week.  For the sake of our future, I will continue facing the facts, no matter how much politically correct outrage this elicits.

This article by Democratic Alliance leader, Helen Zille, first appeared in The Star, May 27 2009

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