Sympathy for Danny Jordaan

William Saunderson-Meyer says the SAFA president is doing exactly the right thing over rape claims


Danny Jordaan is doing exactly the right thing

I have sympathy for Danny Jordaan over the rape furore in which he is entangled. Also for Harvey Weinstein, enveloped in an even wider ranging sexual scandal.

Not because I believe them to be innocent. I mean, just looking at them, anyone surely can see that they are scumbags and abusers? 

Look at the heavy jowls and the hooded eyes. Look at the arrogant mien that says, “I am a master of the universe. I take what I wish.” Straight out of Hollywood casting.

Just kidding. In this enlightened age, we of course know better than to judge people by their looks. We know better than to lynch because of skin hue, to ridicule because of gender, to snub because of body shape.

So, despite their looks and manners, my condemnatory verdict on Jordaan and Weinstein is arrived at rationally. Alert to the anguish that shrieks from so much of the testimony against them, I think that on the balance of probabilities they are both likely guilty of sexual offences.

But, als,o my sympathy for these men is arrived at rationally. Whatever I might think they are guilty of is actually irrelevant to anyone but myself. I am not a cop or a prosecutor or a judge.

Even if I am accurate in my assessment might be that they did something wrong, I am not entirely sure what that “something” is, in terms of crime and punishment. 

It might have been rape. It might have been sexual assault. It might simply have been acute and inappropriate randiness. On the other hand, it might not have been any of those. 

That is why it matters when their careers and lives are destroyed by a baying mob on social media. A mob that is so influential that through the fear it engenders among those it seeks to pressure, it can compel the withdrawal of awards and trigger the bankruptcy of companies, without a single ruling has been made by an evenhanded court.

It is a mob so influential that normally level-headed editors write sneeringly and foolishly, as Business Day did this week about Jordaan: “His refusal to publicly engage and instead to say he will see his accuser in court makes it clear that Jordaan either misunderstands the nature of rape or that he is pretending to. Rape is seldom an offence that is proven in court.”

“Even if innocent, [Jordaan] could have taken the chance to have a dialogue about that evening in the Port Elizabeth hotel. Instead he added insult to injury by offering nonsensical and inane arguments for his behaviour.”

I find it astonishing that a newspaper of Business Day’s stature seriously believes that Danny Jordaan should “publicly engage” with his accuser, “even if innocent”. Why?

Why should Jordaan choose to fight a battle in the court of public opinion, instead of a court of law? A battle terrain where allegations substitute for evidence and where there is no impartial scrutiny or interrogation of the claims made against one?

A battle, which in a superheated emotional atmosphere he is bound to lose. After all, when the editor of a staid publication like Business Day has already dismissed your very first words on the situation as “nonsensical and inane”, there can be little hope that social media activists with an axe to grind are going to understand or empathise with the accused's side of the story. 

Business Day is further wrong to assert “rape is seldom an offence that is proven in court.” Despite the evidentiary challenges, it is often proven in court and our jails are full of convicted rapists. There is also the option of civil litigation, if criminal charges cannot be brought.

It is true, however, that for a number of reasons most sexual offences do not even make it through the court doors. Not the least of those stumbling blocs is, as Business Day correctly points out, “rape can bring shame and stigma upon even the most confident of women, deepening the silence.”

But the solution is not crowd justice, presided over by media houses that have a moneymaking stake in the orchestration of a “justice” spectacle. The potential for false accusations by the vengeful, as well as fake news from the media houses themselves, should give further cause for a pause.

This week an eNCA reporter singlehandedly cut the legs off the #BlackMonday protests against farm killings, by tweeting pictures of rightwing farmers brandishing the old SA flag. The debate moved instantly from the grievances of a group of people – like them or loathe them – who have a 4.5 times greater chance of being murdered, to a debate, seized upon at cabinet minister level, about the political ingratitude of whites.

The problem is, the pictures were fake, dating back a decade. eNCA withdrew the tweet — though the reporter remains unrepentant — but by then the horse had bolted. It’s a salutary reminder of how biddable and capricious public opinion is.

So Danny Jordaan is doing exactly the right thing in seeking refuge in the courts. Innocent or guilty, that is the very reason why the judicial process exists.

And for all its limitations, it sure beats facing 140-character partisans deployed in assassination mode on Twitter, with the commercial media alternately cheering from sidelines, then refereeing from the umpire’s chair.

Follow WSM on Twitter @TheJaundicedEye