Racists always have an excuse when they are outed in South Africa

There are three certainties in life: death, taxes and racist South Africans. We’re spoilt for choice on the latter: Penny Sparrow, Adam Katzevelos, Velaphi Khumalo, Justine Sacco, Bongani Masuku, Vicki Momberg are just the tip of the iceberg.

And now Belinda Magor has summited too, a racist who prefers pit bulls to black South Africans.

The other certainty in this country is that every time a racist is outed, they always have an excuse. This time it’s apparently blood sugar – to the surprise of diabetics from Aggenys to Zwelitsha. 

The truth is slightly more prosaic, it’s just prejudice. It’s also privileged. It’s very rare that racists share their bigotry in any forum where there’s a real chance of getting punched by someone who takes offence. Fortunately for all of us, someone did take offence: Magor was outed, shamed and evicted. Next year she’ll go to court and she might even be jailed – Momberg was.

So far so normal, but that’s the point. We dare not stop being outraged because that’s when we’ll start normalisinghate, whether it’s homophobia, xenophobia, sexism, Islamophobia, antisemitism or just plain old racism.

As Justice emeritus Sisi Khampepe reminded us in the landmark Masuku judgment in February: “death and life are in the tongue”. The seeds of genocide, whether in Nazi Germany or in Rwanda are sown when one group starts depicting another as less worthy or deserving than themselves. We know all about that here; South Africans didn’t pioneer racism, but we perfected it with apartheid and we have systematically normalised ethnic hatred by calling burning someone to death xenophobia.

The best tool we have for combatting hate, ironically, is social media because people can’t help themselves. Descartes might have said “I think therefore I am”, but thanks to Zuckerberg it’s become “I’m liked therefore I am” and everyone thinks they can get away with it because everyone believes the algorithms that tell them they’re all amongst the same bunch of bigots. 

The irony though is that they aren’t.

Sparrow and Khumalo might have posted their bile on Facebook, but Katzevelos, and now Magor, posted on a closed WhatsApp group. 

The fact that those closed groups outed them should be cause for celebration in itself because it shows not all white South Africans are racist land thieves or incontinent drunkards or both, whatever the identity politicians bang on about.

You are allowed to hate another person, many of us do. You just can’t hate an entire group for something you believe they have done or might do because of the colour of their skin; the language they speak; the gods they do or don’t worship and the genders of the people they love. 

It seems like a contradiction in terms, but we can only become a truly tolerant society if we become intolerant of prejudice.

So, let’s not have any crocodile tears when Magor is sent down next year and please let’s not have any moral equivalencies about crime, corruption – and racism. 

We need to hate all of it, not play one off against the other.

Originally published by the Saturday Star on 3 December 2022.