I grew up mostly in post-apartheid South Africa. I learnt our history both inside the school system and because I love history more than almost anything else, outside of it too. I am someone who would never claim ignorance when it comes to the sensitivities of our all-too-evident racial divisions. What I will not do is try to defend my non-racial, liberal, democratic or libertarian ideas in the face of those who didn’t like me before they had evidence of supposedly culturally insensitive remarks or become one of those brow-beaten whites who allow themselves to be bullied into submission by outrage on social media. This essay is therefore not an attempt to excuse anything I don’t believe I need an excuse for.
Senzo Meyiwa died in tragic circumstances just over a week ago. The circumstances of that death were not at issue for me: Crime does not discriminate and we lost a talented star. At the time I posted this tweet:
When I turned on the TV on Saturday morning, I saw this extraordinary (because it was not ordinary – forgive me for being very literal here) funeral, replete with marching policemen, government ministers making speeches, flags, banners, food, dancing and singing and a stadium. I have no problem with any of this – in fact I would rather see heroic members of society buried in this fashion than politicians, but in living memory it is ONLY politicians who have been buried like this. In fact some of the great stalwarts of the struggle have had much smaller ceremonies at their funerals. This was the first time I can recall when a non-politician has been accorded a funeral so large and impressive. Again, I do not take issue with it, like I do with every other kind of disgusting misappropriation of state funds. I asked this question though, and opened a Pandora’s Box of pretty horrific demons:
It’s a good question, and one which we should all ask, especially because politicians love using the grandstand a funeral provides as a soap-box from which to manipulate emotional people. Anthony did it at Caesars funeral and it thrust him into the first triumvirate. So if the politicians paid for it, that means WE paid for it. I don’t mind if we paid for Senzo’s funeral, but I mind that I am the bad guy for asking the question. I mind it a lot. I was called every kind of vulgar thing by a horde of the least eloquent, most furious, marauding lunatics I didn’t know, and who couldn’t have all known Senzo either.
Their fury betrayed that there was more anger at his death than any of us could quantify – the same anger poor Kelly Khumalo had to deal with earlier in the week – but it also showed that when a mob need a scapegoat, any excuse will do. Sadly, for a time, I became more important to these angry people than Senzo.
I did not ask the question to be controversial, or because I was looking for attention – and I don’t care that my Twitter following went up. I am furious too – furious that a great footballer is dead, another innocent man killed for no good reason. Mobs can kill people too – and Terry Pratchett said in Jingo that “the intelligence of that creature known as a crowd is the square root of the number of people in it.” At times like these I am tempted to dismiss the idea of a ‘Rainbow Nation’ but I am reminded by our history and our greatest leaders that we have much more that binds us than that which divides us.