2016 has started painfully.

I’m a white guy and I’m mindful that I inherit a system biased in my favour, but I’m also a passionate South African – and have been outspoken on matters to do with the country because I care so much.

I’m not a member of any political party. The only membership I have is of the Mamelodi Sundowns fan club, which I joined when I was 15. In 1994, I was still at school and too young to vote. Since the General Election of 1999, I have only ever voted for the ANC – with the exception of one election where I wasted my vote on COPE. I kept voting ANC, even when I became disillusioned with the President and the executive – mostly because I believed in what the ANC stood for.

Over the years I have taken a lot of abuse for my views – I’ve even received death threats. I’ve always regarded this as an exercise of freedom of speech – in a country where freedom of speech had not existed prior to 1994. In the light of #Sparrowgate and the ensuing controversy, I have come to understand that what I have been tolerating is hate speech.

On Sunday night, a South Coast Estate Agent that nobody cared about called Penny Sparrow, wrote an odious social media post about crowds of black people on beaches – comparing them to monkeys. On Monday morning I dealt with this on my show on Cliffcentral.com, and unequivocally condemned racism.

Later that morning, someone tweeted a poll asking people for their opinions on freedom of speech – to which I replied “People don’t understand free speech at all.”

Having already discussed it on my show, I wrongly assumed that we were all already in agreement that you can’t stand up for racism

@Wamotsibah773 responded: “Are you a racist as well? Or are you one of those who think there’s a beta skin colour than the other?”, to which I responded: “Don’t be so linear. You insult your own intelligence. This woman is an idiot and a racist, but I believe in freedom of speech.”

This was the source of unrelenting anger, name-calling and death threats against me that ensued as the message became more and more lost in the shitstorm.

Read it again and assess for yourself whether such a disproportionate outrage is called for.

Calls to boycott me and even the TV show Idols came in the wake of this lynch-mob that directed their fury at me. In an effort to clarify things, I apologised for the confusion, which sadly only led to more vitriol.

Here is the apology:

Gareth Apology

I certainly appreciate the need to obtain greater clarity on what the limits of free speech and the parameters of hate speech really are. I’m also grateful that people like Pinky Khoabane, Sizwe Dhlomo, Professor Jonathan Jansen, Advocate Dali Mpofu and DJ Fresh sought to constructively engage me on the matter. We all know that there are blurred lines in the sensitive context of race relations in South Africa.

At this moment, I feel disappointed in how the conversation sometimes gets hijacked by angry and emotional people on Twitter, who have no desire to add value. We should not be deterred from continuing the discussions we need to have to build a better South Africa.

When the dust settles, I hope that we can engage constructively – tell our stories, share our ideas and LISTEN to each other. Don’t be bullied. Don’t tolerate racism. Let’s keep talking.



  1. Christian says:

    I am grateful that you use your public platform to speak your mind and so thankful that you bother to apologise publicly about a shitstorm which I believe ensued because you were misunderstood.

    At times you really annoy me too, but I am sorry you are being bullied about this. I know all too well what that feels like. That’s not evokay and I suspect you are more sensitive than what you let on. So this must hurt too. And I send you a hug and a few words to let you know I hope you feel better. I know you tried to do the right thing. Bon courage.

  2. I totally agree and recognized that some people blew things out of proportion to a point where I felt I had to jump in. I’m not eloquent enough to voice this but I feel innocent people are being painted with the wrong brush. I was educated by one of your post on twitter shaming n since have realized this is what they are trying to do with you now. I salute you for not cowering on the face of bullies.

  3. Neil says:

    Yours is often a clear voice of reason in the noise and turbulence of our times. I commend you for your courage and for standing by your convictions. I don’t always agree with your views, but, as I suspect you do also, I admire articulate people who have the ability to convey, substantiate and stand buy their utterances intelligently and courageously – even in the face of hostility. Pease be encouraged and keep up your good work! Our magnificent country needs you.

  4. Ok Gareth so maybe your timing was off so next time please think before you write something. I was one disappointed fan.#savegareth

  5. zeejay says:

    Some people are sensitive about racial comments and are so blind at times. Perhaps this person should’ve ask clarity on your statement before responding like that as he clearly misunderstood you.

  6. iona minton says:

    I read Gareth Cliffs explanation in terms of the context of his Tweet and it is quite clear to see that he got caught up in a maelstrom of frustration, and emotional sentiment. This is why I stay away from Twitter; even as I pen this missive I am considering every syllable. – Social Media has no margin for error and words can so often be taken out of context. You may love or hate Gareth but one thing for sure – he is not is a racist. Did these people even listen to his shows? He has always been patently clear that he abhors racism and spoke with passion against it.
    On the other hand there was definitely no ambiguity in Jenny Sparrows words, and she deserves to pay the price of her bigotry. Indeed, anyone who expresses these sentiments on a public or private forum needs to be taken to task. But I can’t help wondering if people who are bigoted and misguided deserve the treatment meted out on social media. There have been far greater evils perpetrated against our citizens (I don’t have to name them we all know the horrors that go on every day), but they have failed to get the same level of outrage. The bigger question is why so much hate? Not just towards Gareth and, Velaphi and Jenny- but towards anyone who trips up on their own words. I am not referring to racism only, I am referring to any mistake that we fallible humans make. If someone has a brain burp or even wilfully writes something that can be misconstrued, or is deemed insensitive or inflamatory- does that one act of maleficence condemn an individual to a burning stake?
    Does one line define someone’s entire character and standing in society? In the Social media world it looks that way. I think people need to take a step back and ask themselves why they are they “really” angry and who they are “really” angry at? They need to examine the root causes of their vitriol and peel them open for scrutiny. They may find that their target is merely the whipping boy for something larger. It is only when you take the time to evaluate your beliefs and deepest thoughts about an issue, that the real demon raises its head. When the demon is exposed it can be dealt with. Fighting like with like on a social media platform will could come back to bite you. If we have any hope of banishing these awful incidents of racial hatred (on both sides of the divide) we have to stop firing at the tall poppies and dig into the earth beneath them.
    Will the disease of racism ever end? Probably not for an awful long time and definitely not in our lifetimes. America is still trying to make up for their sins against Native American Indians, Irish immigrants and slavery and there is still massive racism practised against Hispanics (not to mention the anti-Muslim sentiment that is giving Trump traction). England also has a lot to answer for in terms of treating their neighbours as 3rd class citizens. Australia is still trying to seek the forgiveness of the Aboriginals, the Spaniards plundered the Gold and Art of the Mayans and killed thousands of them. No-one mentions institutionalised discrimination by way of the Indian Caste system. In fact, there is probably not one country on earth (save perhaps a handful) that has not acted in a way that could be deemed racist today.
    For what it’s worth I think racism is a personal choice. If we are “technically” free of institutionalised Apartheid and racism, who and what is left to perpetuate the injustices? Every citizen has the obligation to stomp on bigotry and racism when it raises its head. And while we have a duty to record the events in history, we should not indoctrinate our children with our residual anger and frustration of our experiences. We should rather teach our children to embrace cultural diversity, and not fill them with hatred and anger about the wrongs we experienced. Remember yes, but to let it trickle down and fester in future generations is just plain destructive.
    Making an example of one misguided person is a fast track to no-where and it takes the attention away from the real issues like exploitation of domestic workers, extreme poverty, lazy and un-motivated teachers, corruption, crime, our beleaguered economy and the drought to name a few issues we have to deal with. Hanging Jenny Sparrow, Velaphi Khumalo, Gareth Cliff and Chris Hart out to dry may act as a vent for our frustration but what will it achieve? Absolutely nothing!

  7. ryan says:

    Personally I don’t think it is correct for you Gareth to call this woman a bigot and racist without first sitting with her and getting to know her. This whole story is sensationalist and the media has just jumped on the bandwagon, think they drive the racist agenda in this country. By no means do I condone the words used by Penny, but to put things into more context and maybe Penny should get an editor to write her complaints but this outrage about litter is not just about New Years Day on the beach. Nobody in Scottburgh would mind if this happened only on New Years, I even believe we should as a community give everyone a great New Year Bash, get some live entertainment on the beach, have an area for drinking, people are there to have fun, bring in more bins and toilets, have a proper company employed to ensure crowd control and safety and have one great party.

    The problem is not New Year, the straw I believe which broke the Sparrows back is the fact that every single weekend taxi’s come down to the beach, they play loud music all night, drink in public which is against the law. Break bottles on the walk way and road. Urinate and defecate on the lawn and nothing gets done. It is a small town which depends on holiday makers from your province to make it tick. The holiday makers can’t walk out of the caravan park at night due to the above, nothing gets done.
    The wimpy at the main beach and little club “fat boys” were closed down as the municipality did not want to renew their lease. Its been over 3 years, no revenue from the best real estate in the town.

    As I said again the media drives a racist agenda in my opinion, and our friend Velaphi Khumalo may have some intellectual ANC friends to write his apologies, Penny does not. I think most people just expect better progression in South Africa, people sometimes pick the wrong fights. All I want is a better place one day for my 3 year old kid where he can maybe go for an early morning walk on the beach with me without standing on broken glass or worse.

  8. Shannon says:

    I’m totally disappointed to read about this. I’m glad that people have started to make a scene about the way people talk publicly and encourage racism without even intending to but this was not the case this time and it’s terrible that you have to deal with the repercussions of someone else’s blinding emotions and inability to interpret a sentence even with an explanation following it.

    It could be worse, I suppose.

  9. Hello says:

    So the black guy who tried to incite violence gets suspension with full pay and the white guy who spoke out against racism got out right fired….so many stupid people in the world.

  10. Dan the Man says:

    I love and respect GC! Still a big fan of intelligent unncesored unscripted unradio. More of Clifffentral!!!

  11. Lee says:

    It is not possible to deal with the insignificant marginals that incite and anger. Just need to keep perspective on how small they are vs the silent masses that disagree with their thoughts.

    We need to start a new single word reply that belongs to the massess and conveys the thinking of:

    We are One, We are Strong, your words and thoughts cannot harm us, they will not last without acknowledgement…

    Anyways I am not a motivational expert but would love a single one word response that can grow to be posted or said to squash negative remarks.

    #SIMUNYE – Can we empower this word people?

  12. Lindani says:

    Sorry to hear about your idols thing,please next time never ever defend or seem to do so a conversation from a stranger just because their skin colour is similar to yours, you had the most to lose on this occassion …hardy

  13. Nathan says:

    All whites are being painted as racists once again. The local elections and EFF are bringing with a shit storm. Why do they keep us apart, we will never be allowed to think of our future because they tell us we don’t deserve it.

  14. Andrew says:

    How ironic, that commenting on freedom of speech would cause such an uproar!! You really should seek legal action – it’s not fair what they’ve done – your words could be taken in so many different ways.

  15. Truth says:

    So Gareth may be against racism but he did imply that the psychotic Sparrow, as does everyone, has freedom of speech even if it discriminates and insults a group of people, in this case, majority of the South African population.
    He may say that he needs to educate himself about freedom of speech and hate speech, however, I am sure Gareth was fully aware of the difference, he is an educated man is he not?

    The mere fact that Gareth said that Sparrow had the right to voice her opinions even though they were wrong in every way possible, to me,seems as though he understands where this woman was coming from.

    You reap what you sow, he got what he deserved, he got axed.

    How long are black South Africans going to take this nonsense? It saddens me that some black people are still oppressed to this day and they are being brainwashed by white South Africans like Gareth.
    #GarethMustfFall #AxedByIdols #TheNewGenerationShallRise

    If you have an issue with a particular race or condone hate speech, do not twist and turn your words to suit the issue at hand. We will not shame you but we wont like you.


  16. Asanda Mashigo says:

    This is what we should be discussing and not black/white.


  17. Netflix says:

    Well I’ve decided to fire DSTV as my entertainment provider and take that money pay for uncapped Internet and watch Netflix and chill.

  18. Piet says:

    Stay strong Gareth.

    Seems people our out to pick a fight.

  19. Michael says:

    I am deeply saddened to see that your willingness to contribute to the public grasp of citizen rights albeit in the cloudy mist of racial sensitivities has brought you this much trouble. You did nothing wrong and don’t need me or anyone to tell you that. I know you to be far too balanced an individual mentally and emotionally to let this affect your citizen roles in the future. I do think it makes a difference to hear as many citizens as possible say…”You are good for our democracy, keep it up, and let history be the judge”

  20. Jaeron says:

    We as mlack people have a tendency to take out our anger on the wrong people, especially when 1 white person does something to infuriate us,we’re too quick to judge people that are doing wrong to us,but too slow to stop ourselves from doing wrong to others.
    I’ve been reading all the racist,insulting comments mosts were posting on twitter during the Penny sparrow saga, to me I found you as hypocrites cause you were boycotting the woman for racism yet again you were saying racist comments yourselves. And of what use is to paint every white person with the same brush as penny?
    For me,we as black people will forever play victims for as long as we shall leave cause we’re hypocrites that say racism is bad yet again we do it. And every black person that was involved in xenophobic attacks,hate speech etc is not different from Penny,infact you’re worse than her. If we as black South Africans can live with foreigners peacefully and not hate or kill cause their not from here then we’d be different to racist,but we not cause we disriminate each other agains our habbitats which is sad. And for as long as we’ll forver look @ what white people do,we will never live,they’ll continue to progress and we’ll be shouting racism and then being favoured.
    Jealousy is what makes us so bitter and unsuccessful, a lot of other black people who don’t care of what others do are busy progressing in life, all the black majority does is sit on their behinds and say we’re under preveledged, we can’t do certain things. Well with that mindset you’ll forever be under preveledged. To hell with this self pity y’all bury yourselves in, get up from ur behinds and go work, only you can create your own future,because the government can only go so far, in helping you become better people,stop blaming everything on Apartheid.
    We all know Gareth Cliff has always been outspoken,he has. Spoke he’s mind so many times, not once has he ever been racist, let’s quit digging holes where there aren’t any,and start doing sh*t for ourselves.

    Let’s leave thr things of the past in the past, yes! We’ve acknowledged it many times that Apartheid did take place but that was then, and yes we bare the scars of our forefathers,and there’s nothing we can do about that now,it happened and passed,period.

    To every black person or white person out there,if you can point to me 1 perfect individual who hasn’t sinned nor hurt anyone intentionally or not, then only that person is not Racist,other than that we’re all racists for the meere fact that you can say that 1 is white and I’m black or the government favours that one or not still that’s racism.

  21. Thoms says:

    I think u have bn misunderstood sometimes for speaking your mind.But freedom of speech carriers with it freedom to listen. We all react differently to what we perceive as an infridgement of our rights as human beings irregardless of our skin colour

  22. Wazi says:

    At this point. I think MNET is the one that’s racist. Sacking you to me proved to be an act of double standards. Som Som posted what I considered to be racist some time in December but he is still there. I wasn’t to suprised to discover that MNET boss is a black female.I’m black but I believe we all equal. From where I’m standing your south Africa moved from apartheid to being a BLACK south Africa. This freedom of speech applies only if you black. So much for what Mandela fought for. There is no equality there. You did not deserve to be sacked.

  23. Kaletso says:

    It sucks to hear that you've been sacked from Idols. You're a great judge, and beyond that a great personality. Your drive is inspiring, too.

    Regarding the Sparrow comments,  you messed up. Colossal-style, in fact. Being a witty person, Gareth, you are able to dish out well-reasoned, careful yet powerful comments. But, on that day with so much at stake you decided to side with Sparrow's mindset  (Yes, actually. She was also quite sure that she was practicing freedom of speech in free South Africa.)

    Being a young, black and well-educated fan of yours I was tremendously disappointed – even though you overtly condemned racism in your show. You just didn't understand where we at at mentally and emotionally, thus to you it seems quite tiny and to us so damn huge.

    Haven't white people in South Africa learnt to understand that blacks will never be white, there for difference in culture arises? One of the comments above says something about noise. Yes, blacks do make a lot noise and love it, in fact. Part of Penny Sparrow's cry had to do with noisiness and conduct and that's what y'all don't get. We will not conduct ourselves similarly and I don't motivate that we should – ever.

    I'm a born-free and up until a recent point in time I've learnt that being taught that we're one doesn't work and will never. We are different. We should learn each others' cultures and learn to respect the differences of our cultures. This is one thing that the plus-minus 8 million white citizens of SA don't understand about 700 million black Africa. 

    SA can go forward as a multi-racial state but we have to learn more about each other and whites have to unlearn condescension and so forth. Blacks have a lot to learn, too. As long as there is black and white there will always exist the topic of race.

  24. Linda Shezi says:

    Linda Shezi
    While the clouds of the crapstorm are still overhead and vortex of the tonado still abound, I find it better sometime to be still !
    Sometimes opening your mouth at that moment is like casting pearls to the preverbial.

    The dimensions of freedom of speech or any other freedoms are still not that well understood. Tolerance of opinion different to ours is still a pipedream. Yet we must still educate and role model the ideal

    Thanks Gareth Cliff for always putting it out there. Such engagements are necessary regardless of what precarious positions they may land us… The struggle continues

  25. Ian says:

    The point Gareth was trying to make is summed up in Evelyn Beatrice Hall’s well-known quotation: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, which describes the principle of freedom of speech.

    In the ensuing “shitstorm” this viewpoint was lost.

  26. lizetknox says:

    Never ever new Gareth as racist. Actually, quite the opposite. Whole issue totally out of context

  27. Burke says:

    Firstly, thanks to Gareth and everybody at CliffCentral, they are giving a voice to so many people and new ideas. I’d had a sad and discouraging week, but Friday’s show with DJ Fresh and Dali Mpofu restored my faith in humanity, for a while.

    Racism, exploitation, sexism and prejudice are a sickness that must never be tolerated. But there is a Witch-Hunt mentality tearing through our society and it seems some people can’t tell the difference between a racist and someone who is talking about racism.

    With accusations flying in all directions, it’s hard to tell right from wrong. Companies seem eager to fire employees at the first hint of controversy, and now the government wants to add the threat of a jail sentence.

    Good people will be afraid to open their mouths and ask questions, lest the senseless mob descends on them next. In this silent state of fear and loathing, true racism can really grow. The resulting hatred and mistrust will be exploited by some people evil enough to gain power at any cost.

    It’s only through honest, open dialogue, in a fear free environment, that we will gain understanding of one another – the understanding and compassion that we need to find our way through and change our world for the better. So keep up the good work and talk talk talk at CliffCentral!

  28. […] folk on Twitter have asked me: “Why did Cliff apologise then?” Well, maybe he now thinks he was wrong (which wouldn’t make him right now). […]

  29. Matome Malatji says:

    Gareth Cliff just happened to be at a wrong place at the wrong time.

  30. fidel says:

    gareth there is a clear difference between free speech and hate speech, you cant really shout free speech to a racial situation as it implies that you feel its ok for people to call other people “monkeys” all because of free speech. Sometimes its best to stay away from social media and not add flames to the situation.

  31. […] by media of – in quick succession this week – economist Chris Hart, radio personality Gareth Cliff and newsreader Andrew Barnes. For some odd reason, no Afrikaners were in the SJW sights this week, […]

  32. Marius Joubert says:

    Such a pity that you are held at ransom for being honest and giving fair comment and opinion , however there will always be a small minority that will cause a storm in a tea cup in this case to the detriment. You really irritate me sometimes however when it really matters you have represented yourself really well ,

  33. Just Saying says:

    i am sitting here thinking of how this whole thing has been blown out of porportion, i mean south africa is supposed to be a democratic nation and we have a right to freedom of speech as per our constitution.Here we are sitting and focusing on this issue of Gareth when South Africa has bigger issues ad problems that should be addressed and worked on daily instead of wasting time on this matter. Crime is a big problem in SA, Health issues and education issues, employment issues are things that we should be looking into and questioning.

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