The c-word

Andrew Donaldson writes on that which may no longer be mentioned


YOU may have missed it amid all the long weekend excitement and the annual strike and mayhem season getting underway and the rubbish traffic jams now that the rain has come but there was another outrage on Twitter the other day. 

Involving, yet again, Premier Helen Zille and that dreaded “c” word, the one we dare not mention for fear of being dragged before some tribunal and there be hectored and bullied until we’re bleeding from the eyes with all the weeping and wailing and what have you.

I know, I know. Who would ever have thought, and does the woman never learn, and how dare she, and whatever was she thinking, etc?

In this latest kerfuffle about, well, nothing really, Zille had been set upon by one Sizwe Dhlomo, an individual described in one news report as a “radio and TV personality”. 

Which, you’ll agree, is probably not one but two contradictions in terms right there.

But moving on. Dhlomo had come across a post on slavery from the Martin Luther King, Jr Centre for Nonviolent Social Change and, hoping to convince the Premier that slavery was a bad thing, tagged her on it before retweeting.

“I agree,” Zille responded in a tweet, “there was absolutely nothing positive about slavery or the slave trade.” She added that, “despite its many evils, colonialism helped end slavery in parts of Africa.”

Dhlomo was not going to let that pass without comment, and ere long, as they say, there came the homily, the details of which may be summed up as follows: Zille was a beneficiary of colonialism. She is not sorry about this and therefore has a “deficit in morals”.

And that certainly showed her. All of Dhlomo’s friends on Twitter said as much. 

They are all young people, but this shouldn’t count against them, and they are duty bound to confront and challenge the serious social, political and environmental problems they have inherited from their elders. And, indeed, they are to be applauded for the zeal and passion with which they go about it.

Of course, the rest of us are in no way compelled to listen to the revolutionary vanguard as they rail away about putting to rights a world they have barely lived in and have yet to traverse. 

And so we ignore them, often because we have other things to do. It is an iniquitous social contract, but it is one that is passed from the one generation to the next: they are the future, we don’t care. (Which is not strictly true; we do care, but not in ways that make them happy.)

They may feel excluded from the policy decisions that affect them (and don’t we all), but Twitter has at least given the millennials a voice. It matters not that politics, like life, is far too nuanced for social media, it is at least a soapbox of sorts.

More alarmingly, it is also a hair trigger for the trollish and intolerant. Here at the Mahogany Ridge, we believe the Premier is well aware of this, and that her tweets are deliberately calculated to provoke indignation and outrage among the petulant and excitable.

Perhaps she derives some perverse pleasure from it, but it is tempting to think of her as a voodoo high priestess sticking pins into wax figurines before dropping them into a cauldron of bubbling unorthodoxy or, if you prefer, reactionary twaddle.

It is as easy as shooting fish in a barrel and you wonder why they even rise to the bait. Out pops a tweet, let’s say, about roads built during the colonial era, and the splenetic response from the commentariat is an instant tsunami of righteous indignation.

Within moments po-faced think tankers and other wonks are mauling one another in the scramble to appear on eNCA discussion panels and breathlessly inform us of the great need for a national conversation — that other dreaded “c” word — about the past.

“Conversation”, alas, no longer means what it used to, and any resemblance with the old-fashioned notion of discourse is both rare and unintentional. These days it is a process whereby one person shouts down another and those covered in the most phlegm are deemed to have lost the “debate”.

In November last year, you may recall, Twitter doubled to 240 the number of characters permissible in posts in a bid to attract more people to the service. 

The problem, though, is that we need less people tweeting, not more. My own suggestion is that only tweets in the form of a haiku be allowed. For example:

Despite every bloke

Being woke as the next oke

Rhodes has yet to fall.

This article first appeared in the Weekend Argus.