Senzo Meyiwa was laid to rest a week ago, but the hubbub around my question about his funeral refuses to die down. “Who paid for this massive funeral for #SenzoMeyiwa?”
The past few days have elicited an extraordinary response from many South Africans – some outraged, some hateful, some thoughtful and some supportive. The readings have vacillated between positive and negative but have opened up an opportunity for dialogue and understanding – which is how we take this discussion up a level.
Whether or not you like insensitive whites asking poorly-timed questions or if you compare me to Verwoerd or Hofmeyr you have to admit there are things we need to talk about – and if my being white or your being black is a factor that counts either of us out of the discussion, then we’re in a lot of trouble.
I’m disturbed but not surprised by outright racism and bigotry – there’s a lot of anger in this country, and we pretend to get along some of the time until something awful happens or someone decides to take offence to something in the news. We need to go deeper though – to start understanding each other, and the bad news is that it won’t be comfortable. Some black people think all whites are right-wing devils that put on a show and occasionally reveal their real, racist feelings – by being patronising or using language which seems imperious. This may be true for some white people, but there are a great many of us who actually really aren’t racists – who don’t use the K-word, who don’t criticise the government because they think black people can’t do the job, and who aren’t proud of their colonial past. White people need to appreciate that what may seem like a question of fact can make a black person read all sorts of indirect racism and cultural prejudice that cannot be dismissed. We need to talk about our feelings, but we can’t be emotional in our reactions. Once we start to understand the other person’s point of view, there’s a way to turn every cause for conflict into a chance for conciliation.
My mistake was to ask “Who’s paying for this massive funeral for #SenzoMeyiwa?” without considering the timing or how many millions of people might have misinterpreted it as something mean-spirited, but the question stands, and has still not been satisfactorily answered. I didn’t ask it to be provocative or because I was seeking attention; I tweet all the time – and I’m sure I’ve said many more offensive things than that. Many other people asked the same question, but maybe nobody saw their tweets. Whatever the responses, I’m pretty sure I didn’t deserve “One settler one bullet”, “Fuck you Gerath you racist pink pig”, “You and Steve Hofmeyr are the same black-hating peas in a pod” (sic). If you think those reactions are appropriate then I doubt we’d have a lot in common, but I will defend your right to say even horrible things.
Tasteless remarks about Kelly Khumalo and unkind memes about Senzo’s dad with arms outstretched have polluted the social media timelines of many of us over the past few days – but instead of asking tough questions, we look for scapegoats and distractions. Instead of being sad about Senzo, many people preferred to get angry and nasty – and to what avail?
Who paid for Senzo’s funeral? You did – and I did. R.I.P. Senzo.