Condemnation is the only thing South Africans are good at

Whataboutery and selective (sham) sincerity are going to be the death of us. The legendary Gus Silber defines it as “the art, in debate and dialogue, of evading a question by deflecting attention to an issue of supposedly equal or greater significance”. 

South Africans are world leaders, its master was the late, unlamented, Pik Botha. Selective (sham) sincerity, fed by retrograde amnesia, is our other international benchmark. But the phenomenon s actually an unholy trinity completed by double-speak. We have had to stomach ladles of all this recently. 

Last week, fresh from trying to describe what the fourth industrial revolution means, our deputy president DD Mabuza told us that Eskom’s recent power blackouts were a sign of our economic growth. 

This week we had the video of singer and dancer Bongekile Simelane, aka Babes Wodumo, being savagely beaten by her boyfriend Mandla ‘Mampintsha’ Maphumulo; sparking a feeding frenzy of virtue signalling and whataboutery.

Normally all the handwringing on social media and talk radio achieves very little –this time though the police actually arrested Maphumulo (after being given an ultimatum on Morning TV by the national police commissioner) then promptly let him be released unopposed on R2 000 bail. 

Even by local standards, the whataboutery was nauseating. Some took to social media to ask who was holding the camera when she was assaulted – suggesting Simelane’d set the whole thing up, rather than the obvious answer: she’d been hit before, knew she was going to be hit again and this time decided to film it once and for all. The same lobby begged the question what she’d done to provoke her ostensible lover – who true to South African form promptly counter charged her with assault.

The retrograde amnesia was headlined by the outpouring of sympathy by two former police ministers who – social media correctly pointed out – had been mute on other incidents of gender-based violence, in particular involving disgraced former deputy basic education minister Mduduzi Manana. 

None of this is new, we see it every day with the revelations of State Capture; nobody knew anything, saw anything or heard anything about the corruption and the collusion (and when they’re caught out their defence is: ‘So-and-so stole more). It’s one of the amazing South African phenomena; like apartheid, where you can’t find a single white South African who either supported it or voted for the Nats – ever.

We have a problem in this country. We have many actually, but they’re all perpetuated and enabled by the same toxic trifecta: nobody takes responsibility, nobody ever gets consistently outraged – and there are no consequences whatsoever for anti-social or criminal behaviour. But, hell, we love to condemn. Everything is condemned by everyone to the extent that everything is actually condoned.

Every slapped woman is one slapped woman too many. The only politician who got it right for a change (although the liberals almost choked on their bran muffins) was Mmusi Maimane who wanted to take him into the boxing ring. 

He only got one thing wrong. He should have just taken a baseball bat to Maphumulo’s head – it’s the only language men who hit women really understand…

Originally published by the Saturday Star on 8 March 2019.