Racial arson: A difference of opinion

Ed Herbst contrasts Aneez Salie’s comments on the events of February 16 at UCT with those of two other prominent editors

RMF’s arson – a difference of editorial opinion

31 May 2016

Ed Herbst contrasts the different assessments by the Cape Times, Sunday Times and City Press to RMF vandalism at the University of Cape Town

In my recent article , “Arson at UCT: What you didn't read in the Cape Times” I analysed the censorship by omission which saw reporter Carlo Petersen deliberately withhold from the newspaper’s readers the essential truth of Judge Rasheni Allie’s ruling in the Cape High Court. That truth was that the Rhodes Must Fall movement leader, Chumani Maxwele, was involved in a pre-planned arson raid on vehicles, paintings and buildings on the UCT campus in February.

As is now history this inspired copycat arson attacks at educational institutions throughout the country. These attacks will cost hundreds of millions of Rands in reconstruction costs and they have done immeasurable harm to the country’s image as a safe and stable democracy and a worthwhile destination for foreign investment.

The Cape Times could not, however, avoid commenting on this vandalism at UCT and so, on Thursday February 18, two days after the criminal activities of the RMF activists, the newspaper’s editor, Aneez Salie, duly did so in an editorial.

Ethnically-driven vandalism

There is an initial and brief reference in passing to the ethnically-driven vandalism which the ANC has condemned. Much of the editorial praises the owner of the newspaper Dr Iqbal Survé. Most of Salie editorial, however, consists of the by-now-familiar and by rote attack on UCT Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price and UCT:

The attitude of UCT authorities towards the view of students on a range of matters over the past year has been deplorable. The days of “we know best” have long past.

With all due respect to vice-chancellor Max Price, we believe he does not know best. He does not for instance, know anything about grinding poverty.

Perhaps it’s time for him to learn about this.

What he does seem to know however is the old form of discipline, and the old form of quelling unrest, by upping the numbers of security personnel on the campus and how to crack the whip.

Perhaps it’s time for him to unlearn this,” Aneez Salie pontificated.

The contrast between the Salie editorial and the weekly column by Barney Mthombothi a few days later in the Sunday Times was stark and startling, but predictable and telling.

Dangerously racist overtones

Mthombothi wrote: “At the University of Cape Town this week some students were happily engaged in incendiary activities with dangerously racist overtones.

No need to dwell on the outrage at UCT except to say that the Holocaust was preceded in the ‘30s by a book-burning campaign by the German Student Union, a Nazi affiliate. Books targeted were those by Jewish writers, liberals and communists. We avert our gaze at our peril. These things need to be nipped in the bud.”

Mthombothi’s contention was buttressed on the same page in an interview conducted by Chris Barron in his weekly “So many questions” column. He questioned a representative and deputed spokesman for the RMF movement, Simon Rakei. In the interview Rakei acknowledged that RMF is, in effect, a leaderless mob and that burning paintings was an integral facet of the RMF’s ‘decolonisation project.’ He refused to give a guarantee that such ethnically-based vandalism would not occur in future – a prescient prediction as it turned out.

Act of barbarism

On the same Sunday, 21 February, the City Press editor Ferial Haffajee expressed similar concerns to Mthombothi in her editorial headlined, It’s not a war on whites.

Screaming ‘whiteness is burning!’ these students told themselves they were striking a blow at white supremacy on behalf of the decolonisation movement. But their act of barbarism put the students in the fine company of the Nazi book burners; the Taliban and the Islamic State (IS) destroyers of ancient artefacts and monuments and the jihadists who laid waste to large chunks of Timbuktu’s rich, precious heritage. They are co-travellers with the Khmer Rouge, who turned Cambodia’s National Library into a piggery and used bookshelves and books to make fire.”

Saying that the burning of images of white people and works by white artists was an ominous development that was creating “a nursery of hatred” she concluded her editorial with a question: “How long before the burning of pictures of white people becomes the burning of white humans?”

If it is a question that has occurred to Aneez Salie, it is certainly not one that he has, as yet, cared to articulate and one must ask why?