David Bullard writes on the events of the past couple of weeks
OUT TO LUNCH
Since the great lifting of the ban on alcohol we’ve been back to GnT’s of an evening. I tend to pour a generous measure because, after seven dry weeks, you really want to taste the gin and not the tonic. We normally restrict ourselves to the one generous measure but very occasionally the taste buds send an agitated signal to the brain telling it to mix another.
Mrs B is considerably slimmer than me and a second large GnT can play havoc with her jigsaw puzzle endeavours later in the evening. She becomes convinced that there is one piece missing and that I must have vacuumed it up earlier in the day. So I mix her a less potent version while I go for the full GnT monty. It’s all a matter of what the body can tolerate. In this case alcohol but it can just easily apply to free speech.
I mention this because it was as we were nursing a generous GnT on the evening of May 27th that my cell phone rang and I noticed the call was coming from Frans Cronje, CEO of the SA Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR). The line wasn’t great but after exchanging some pleasantries he told me the Daily Friend website was discontinuing my Sunday column and it was something to do with a provocative tweet I had made that day.
The specifics weren’t clear but I thanked him for letting me know and wished him a good evening. As I said in the only news interview I did, the SAIRR are quite entitled to decide who they publish and if they felt my column wasn’t up to standard then that was fine with me.
I had been writing for the SAIRR for over a year and had enjoyed a good run. I always had exemplary editors and none of the copy of my often provocative columns was ever changed. I assumed that I would quietly disappear from, in fairness, a website that few people had ever heard of. What I never imagined was that it would soon cease to be a private matter between me and the SAIRR.
The following morning the story of my “sacking” was gleefully told in the mainstream media and Twitter was full of people brimming with impotent rage and eager to put the boot in with some of the most poisonous and threatening comments I have ever read.
At the same time as I was fielding the hate mail I was also delighted to receive plenty of support from readers of both the now extinct Daily Friend column and the Out to Lunch column as well as from some good friends from within the SAIRR. I sent an e-mail to the SAIRR thanking them for giving me the opportunity to write for them and wishing them well for the future.
But before I go any further allow me to introduce myself (as the Rolling Stones sang in Sympathy for the Devil). I have been writing columns on and off (but mostly on) since before 1994. I have always taken the view that there is no point in writing a column if somebody else controls what you are allowed to say.
So when I started writing regularly for the Sunday Times back in 1994 I was in the happy position of having no debt, no expensive dependents to support, a decent bank balance and plenty of forthright opinions which I felt needed to be shared. That puts you in a rather advantageous position as a columnist because it effectively makes you bullet proof. So when I was “sacked” in 2008 for writing an “offensive” piece about the probability of Chinese colonialisation it made not a jot of difference to the bank balance.
On the contrary; after a short sojourn at a villa in Umbria I returned to South Africa and started writing a column for an online publication called Freeracer which was part of the then Moneyweb stable. The column then moved to Moneyweb under Alec Hogg of which Politicsweb was also part.
Three other online publications asked me to write a regular column and, in one case, I was sponsored for a short while by a large corporate to the tune of R70 000 a month, of which I was paid half. Not surprisingly this infuriated my former employers, particularly when a book called ‘Out to Lunch Ungagged’ was published in 2012 containing all the post ST columns.
Little has changed today except that I can now claim to be older and more curmudgeonly, just as financially independent and with a terminal condition to contend with. So, given those factors, what have I got to lose?
My loathing for the kleptocrats in the ruling party knows no bounds. The way South Africa has been reduced in the past decade or so from a country with great potential to a complete basket case disgusts me. The grinning oafs who continue to steal, irrespective of being fingered by the Zondo commission or featuring in some investigative journalist’s book sickens me.
The fact that these same oafs are being paid a small fortune to run the country further into the ground sickens me further. I find the whole idea of micro-aggressions, of safe spaces for LGBTQ+ students in universities, of ‘non-platforming speakers and lecturers, of demanding that the English Literature syllabus be ‘decolonised’ to exclude white land thieves and rapists like William Shakespeare to be complete bullshit.
I refuse to believe that Mother Nature screwed up and that a high percentage of gullible teenagers have been born in the wrong bodies or that 50 year old men can suddenly decide they want to be called Madam and use the ladies lavatories.
I think the idea that there are 90 different genders and that sex no longer exists as a defining characteristic absolutely absurd. I loathe the fact that grown adults can stand and applaud a 16 year old autistic climate activist without daring to question what she is saying. And that’s not the half of it…
But do we dare say these things in public any more? Well, mostly we don’t for fear of being labeled racists, homophobes, transphobes and bigots. Debate has been closed down and with the public shaming from the howling Twitter mob comes public vilification and the inevitable loss of your job and possible financial ruin.
One only needs to look at what is happening at UCT. But if, like me, you’re not remotely concerned about what people who have never met you and know nothing about you think and say then it’s no longer a problem and you are free to express your opinions without fear or favour.
As long ago as November 2006 I wrote a column for the ST titled “Racist tag is my badge of honour”. I warned then that the dreaded R word was going to be used more and more to discredit critics of the government. I argued that being accused of “racism” was more an indication of your poisoned arrows landing bang on target rather than falling short.
Indeed, the editor who later sacked me described the Out to Lunch column in the foreword to my second book as “an equal opportunity dispenser of lethal barbs” and went on to say that
“the columnist has a right to do as he or she wishes…..with the proviso that they do not bore readers, defame people or skirt the ethical pavement”.
I have no intention of skirting any ethical pavements and I will try not to bore readers (Gareth Van Onselen excepted). Thanks to the steely spine of the PolWeb editor I live to fight another day and I think a look at the comments following his defence of me on this site tells you all you need to know. The reality is that there can be no free speech if the sponsoring institution holding the purse strings is in thrall to the howling Twitter mob.
Oh…and that terminal condition of mine. It’s called ‘mortality’ and you all have it. Use it wisely.