Freedom of Speech, Just Watch What You Say

Gareth Cliff recently wrote a letter to the South African government criticising it for the way the affairs of the country are being run.  I read the letter on his personal website and I must say he has raised many issues that I believe ordinary South Africans deal with on a daily basis. What has been surprising, is the response his article has stirred.  People have branded him a racist; some applaud him for accurately expressing how many South Africans feel. Zizi Kodwa has requested a meeting with him to discuss the tone of his letter.  Some of the opinions he expressed were impolite,  particularly on the points where he described the President’s offspring as bastards and made fun of  Blade Nzimande’s appearance. Such name-calling was unnecessary. He could have been more diplomatic, but for those who have listened to him on radio he is not one to mince his words, let alone act tactfully. He lacks tact but that does not make him a racist. The question that keeps springing to mind is why the media’s focus was on the insults he hurled at Blade Nzimande and President Zuma? Gareth touched on issues such as: lack of service delivery, poor education system, cronyism, the effectiveness of BEE and the general complacency of the present government. Why are these issues not debated in the media? The majority of the articles I have read on this issue focus on how he has disrespected the office of the president by calling his children bastards. Let us not get sidetracked by Cliff’s name-calling, as this provides ammunition to those who would want to sidetrack the issues he raised. His letter has a lot of  questions, which I believe President Zuma’s government should answer to.  It surprises me that the office of the President was only concerned about the tone of Cliff’s letter and not the content of it. South Africans are fortunate to live in a country that protects its citizens and gives them the right to express themselves. It just seems that as much as the flag of freedom of expression and speech is waved, we are told that we should express ourselves freely but be careful what we say. This to me would mean that freedom of speech is a concept that cannot be used practically as there seem to be so many restrictions to what you can and cannot say according to what is acceptable to the government of the day. Many Africans have been persecuted for expressing themselves freely. Like Ken Sara Wiwa, a Nigerian author whom the Nigerian government murdered because his views differed from theirs . The Zimbabwean Gamu, from X-factors claims that her father was murdered by the Zimbabwean government because he expressed certain views against Mugabe’s regime in the press. We may not agree with what Gareth Cliff writes or says, but we need to appreciate that he, like all the citizens of South Africa has a right to express his views without persecution. Challenge him on his views but let us stop labelling people as racists for expressing their views. It suppresses debate and dialogue because nobody wants that label attached to them. It seems to be the current trend in many countries on the African continent. Politicians, media personalities, and influential people resort to personal attacks on people they are challenging and too often fail to focus on the issues at hand.  This is the case in Ghana, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Ugandan at present. Political parties seem to be leaders in this phenomenon of cheap attacks. I will leave you with lyrics from the rapper  Ice T about freedom of speech. The next time someone expresses an opinion we may not agree with we should refrain from making it personal and rather debate the issue at hand. “We should be able to say anything; our lungs were meant to shout. Say what we feel, yell out what is real. Even though it may not bring mass appeal. Your opinion is yours, my opinion is mine. If you do not like what I am saying, fine. But do not close it, always keep an open mind. A man who fails to listen is blind. We only got one right left in the world today, let me have it or throw The Constitution away… Freedom of Speech, Just watch what you say”. ( Ice T)
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Kate Tutu

Social Entrepreneur,Business Consultant, Editor of Feint & Margin, a young woman who's passionate about Africa's people and development.

8 thoughts on “Freedom of Speech, Just Watch What You Say

  • October 23, 2010 at 7:30 am

    I do agree with some of the sentiments shared by Gareth however it is problematic when he compares this government to the apartheid government because the apartheid government only catered for the less than 5 million white population whilst this government cater for about 49 million people within with a similar revenue as apartheid (you don’t need to be rocket scientists to tell the effect of that). On media, a research found that 62% of newspaper stories comes from a single source (if that doesn’t raise questions about credibility of our media then I don’t know what would!). on BEE Gareth is protecting the whites interest period, the economic inequalities is SA were created by an ACT (law) and will take the same to rectify. Why does Gareth think that Black people will become BEE tokens in Big corporation (is it because he thinks black people are stupid and don’t add value?). On education, yes we could do better but what he is saying (about SA being the worst in Africa) is not factual, in fact a research was conducted and we were found to be on par with the world albeit the dysfunctional township schools (not all).Government is not the only one to blame regarding the state of our education but the parents and the society at large is equally responsible for the state of our education. Parents are abdicating their duty to teach their children good morals and respect to government. Teachers should be worried about the content of what they teach but half the time they must worry about weapons, drugs and all sorts of behaviour problem of these children. How do you teach a gangster that you are scared of? on renaming we must remember that those places had names before the colonialists came (if it is not important to rename why did the colonialists rename our areas when they came? for our psychological liberation we need the names that reflect who we are as SA. In conclusion, I just see Gareth as a bitter white man who is desperate to retain the apartheid status quo but acts like the old white liberals who wanted to talk on behalf of black people but thought blacks are not good enough to talk for themselves. Aluta Continua!!!

    • October 23, 2010 at 12:47 pm

      It’s interesting that you “agree with Gareth’s sentiments”, yet it seems you systematically attack virtually every point he made – what sentiments is it that you agree with then?

      Regarding your comments above, I’ll be addressing it on a points based system:

      1. Apartheid Government.
      In his landmark book, Native Nostalgia, Jacob Dlamini addresses the issue of why some blacks in South Africa ventures out to say that their life was better in Apartheid South Africa? I’m not debating whether Apartheid and its injustice, but I do find it interesting that people that were “disadvantaged” by that form of government would say its better than the present.

      Moreover, it is also factual that in some instances the Apartheid era government went to great lengths in establishing infrastructure. Again this is highlighted in Dlamini’s book, as well as a recent Carte Blanche documentary.

      While I agree with you that the majority of the tax in Apartheid era government was employed to the benefit of whites in South Africa – it’s certainly not the case across the board. This is evidenced by the Homelands, or bantustans if you wish, being bankrolled by the apartheid era government – except that the management of these funds were fraudulent (which cannot be blamed on the apartheid era government).

      2. Media
      In the comment you made about the media, you fall into exactly the same trap that you wrote about – that of citing some source / study (note the singular use of that word). You complain about ONE study mentioning their research, and then completely failing to even adequately reference that source / study.

      3. BEE
      You seem to confuse the interests of BEE with how it is/was implemented – these are two separate arguments.

      BEE doesn’t deal with the mental acuities / aptitudes of people – it’s purely based in skin colour. In two years time, the first children born completely outside of Apartheid will matriculate; to clarify, those are the children that had ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with any race-based policy – and yet, as things stand at present, they’ll still fall under BEE/AA.

      Alot of people complain about BEE/AA without actually considering what the whites constribute DESPITE this. Whites in South Africa are still the predominant tax payers in this country, through whatever consequence you want to attribute. While I’m not condoning what the Apartheid era government did in its policies, it would be foolish to consider BEE as justified. Whites are getting the short end of the stick (policy-wise), yet they’re still expected to contribute to a society that views them as second-class citizens.

      4. Education
      Again you fail to mention your source, which, without it renders your point indefensible. At face-value, I would agree with you that ACCESS to education is on par, but QUALITY is not. Those are two very important distinctions, and without access to your source, it’s difficult to gauge as to which, if any, this study focuses on.

      Furthermore, there’s a marked distinction in teaching subjects (e.g. maths, science, languages, economics etc.) and that of moral education. The job of the teacher is to address the former, not the latter – which is done my society at large, and not at the school / college / university. While I appreciate your points, the mixing of the two is not relevant to the argument.

      5. Renaming
      I quote: “for our psychological liberation we need the names that reflect who we are as SA” – By implication, you’re saying that whites aren’t South African.

      Moreover, I find it surprising that so few blacks that argue they’re indigenous to South Africa, actually don’t know their own heritage. Neither blacks, nor whites, are indigenous. Whereas the whites arrived from Europe, the blacks tribes moved down from what is the Congo today. They only racial group that can definitively claim to be PURELY South African in a historical context, is the Khoisan – themselves living on the fringes.

      Yes, you’re right they had names before – but they weren’t black names, nor white for that matter. But you don’t see the Khoisan kicking up this much fuss, surely their “psychological liberation” is equally important… Unless you’re referring to “psychological liberation” as being a black only concept.

      6. Conclusion
      Your view of Gareth is your own, which I respect. Truthfully, I’m not much of a fan either. That said, if a black man shared those views – would you react the same? Or is it merely because a whitey said it, that you’re disdainful?

      I find it interesting that quite a few black academics, like Jacob Dlamini, share Gareth’s point of view, and yet they’re not met with the same hostility.

      Aluta Continua? You’re struggling against your own mindset, and only you can determine when that struggle is over. Which, for as long as your justify that “struggle” on racial constructs, has no end in sight.

      Facile largire de alieno.

  • October 23, 2010 at 8:09 am

    I think Gareth talk shit!!! Gareth is old enough to have been in the old regime. Why did he not call the then presidents kids the bastard? Why did he not critisize that goverment? He is abusing the media to push his personal agenda!!!

    • October 23, 2010 at 12:56 pm

      Gareth Cliff, born in 1975, got his first job at a radio station in 1998 which was the time of Mandela’s government – yes, he could have called the children of the then President Bastards, but that would still be ANC government – which still renders your point moot.

      Your point, as I understand it, is that he talks shit because he was born in the apartheid era? By the same token, would it be fair to say you’re stupid because of the educational policies of the Apartheid era government? I think not, because to two aren’t related. As is the case with Gareth’s date of birth and his political viewpoints.

      If you’re so dead-set that Gareth is “using the media to push his personal agenda”, I have to ask what agenda you think it is? That of openness, justice, accountability, transparency? Well, those seem like pretty decent agendas to push – even if it is his own.

    • October 23, 2010 at 1:15 pm

      What, pray tell is his personal agenda?That the country be run in a legitimate,corruption free fashion?

      How selfish of him.

  • October 23, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    @Citizen, Excatly how old do you thing Cliff is?

  • October 26, 2010 at 7:28 pm

    Well summed-up Julian, although it does seem your first point (Apartheid government) has somewhat of a “rose-tint”. I agree that the apartheid government supplied some good infrastructure, and what would be perceived as good, to some of the “disadvantaged” but in context it was a little easier for them. The homelands system protected the government from having to deal with urbanization which is a key cause to the service delivery problems we see today. So outside the homelands and in the areas where the government did concern itself (somewhat), such as the townships and peri-urban areas, there were fewer people to whom services needed to be provided and it is this grouping of people who would most likely state, and understandably so, that “apartheid was better”.

    Now to everything else which I agree with I would like to add the following:

    1. Media

    “Concerned”, you may have overlooked something in your analysis of said survey. Did you care to find out what the nature of that source is? If it is a news agency such as SAPA or AP, then it is far from lacking in credibility. (in addition you have shown that reliance on a single source amounts to lack of credibility)

    2. BEE/AA

    The intention behind BEE is a fair and justified one, but how it is being implemented at present is far from this. I’d argue that some of those who benefit from BEE were themselves not “equally disadvantaged” in the apartheid era simply based on skin colour. The likes of Buthelezi (as an example), were allowed more privileges than the average “black” and yet under the current system they get to benefit to the same extent as everyone else. Their kids then continue to also benefit at the expense of those who suffered the most.

    To argue that the post ’94 class of students are on an equal footing is also wrong. Wealth in both monetary and knowledge terms is still not equal and won’t be for a while. BEE does however need to take into account the fact that the playing field is gradually leveling with each generation.

    The token black guy view is also not without reason. A story earlier in the year about the security guard who became a director for one of the companies bidding for a share of the World Cup, is just one of many window dressing schemes that have resulted from how BEE is currently being implemented and measured. Another example is that of Cyril Ramaphosa who at one stage held 6 directorships in large JSE listed companies. In that situation, in my view, Ramaphosa was as much a token as the security guard because the responsibility that comes with being a director (even in a non-executive position) can surely not be fully met when you have so many large companies to work for.

    3. Education

    The societal influences which you have blamed for our current state of education are also influenced by government (to a fair degree). So yes, teachers can’t teach gangsters but what has lead to a youngster resorting to gangsterism? Are the facts that there is a lack of security (effective policing) in their community, the poor service delivery and the lack of properly maintained facilities such as sports grounds or community centres to make use of, not a breeding ground for this.

    This said, we shouldn’t expect government to do everything for our communities and yes society is itself in part to blame.

    Is ours the worst in Africa? I don’t have the facts to evaluate, but we have certainly not been improving (on an overall basis) since 1994.

    4. Renaming

    I think Julian stated it well enough. Where should we stop redressing in this respect?

    (@ Julian, my Italian doesn’t stretch far beyond ciao so care to translate?)

    • October 27, 2010 at 6:59 am

      1. Media
      … Should read (in addition you have NOT shown that reliance on a single source amounts to a lack of credibility)


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