What’s with white angst at the word ‘lackadaisical’?

It’s amazing what sets people’s teeth on edge – especially white people. There are many things; power, the price of it or the lack of it, water (both price and lack if you’re in Cape Town), potholes… and now lackadaisical.

It’s what President Cyril Ramaphosa told Xolani Gwala on Talk Radio 702 the week before, speaking about black anger in South Africa: “It is justified anger. This is why we say to white people that the majority of this country is becoming tired of their lackadaisical commitment to nation-building.”

It was as if he’d prised off the scab of a suppurating sore. Steve Hofmeyr, that standard bearer for nation building immediately redubbed himself Lackadaisical Steve Hofmeyr on Twitter, as did former newspaper columnist turned general liberal bete noir (pun intended) Lackadaisical Prof David Bullard.

They weren’t alone. There were anguished tweets aplenty about how unfair it was to expect 8 percent of the population to build a nation, when they were already contributing the lion’s share of the tax that goes to fund not just the gravy train for the politicians and public servants but also the grant system that a third of the country depends on.

All of which, if not tone deaf, at least missed the point that it’s a helluva advertisement for white privilege to still be able to contribute the majority of the government’s budget as a minority when unemployment seems to render everyone else either unemployed or unemployable.

What is fascinating though is the angst at the word lackadaisical, it’s almost like the bitterness you hear when whites are described as 1652s – the year Jan Van Riebeeck stepped ashore at the Cape.

The last time I heard lackadaisical was when my father read my Standard 9 report card. It means, according to my pocket Oxford dictionary “lacking enthusiasm and thoroughness”, which was a fitting summation of my penultimate year at school – but it’s also a reasonably accurate summary by Ramaphosa. What he omitted to say though was that every other group in this country – if he wants to play the race card – is also at best fairly lackadaisical about nation building; if it means being bused into rallies in the sun for a yellow t-shirt and a food parcel.

That’s not all that’s lackadaisical in our country:  our economy is lackadaisical at best, while CR and his colleagues attempts to staunch a decade’s worth of state capture can’t even be generously described as lackadaisical. But all of that still doesn’t answer the anguish. Andile Mngxitama says far worse things – at least five times five times worse – with a whole troop of fellow travellers on social media trying to outdo him.

Was it then a sense of betrayal among the 1652s by the man whom promised them and the rest of the country a New Dawn? If that’s the case, here’s the news, we’ve got an election around the corner, politicians are going to pick up repetitive stress injuries from playing the race card. The only question is whether the result in May will be lackadaisical or not.

Originally published on 22 December 2018 in the Saturday Star