Get your problems out the way of my comfort

We naturally dislike people who attend to the bare minimum of their responsibilities begrudgingly and with endless complaint. I no longer shop at certain retailers because asking assistants for assistance earned me bad attitude. There are hundreds of films that feature lazy people who, if they had just gone and done what they were supposed to, none of this would have happened, or who do it with endless grumbles but just in time to avert huge disaster (but I can’t think of a single example right now).

This week, South Africa’s most in-the-news hospital, Baragwanath, left a badly burned man to die, seemingly neglecting the bare minimum of their profession and their humanity. You can read that sad story here (caution: unpleasant pics). However, one of the state doctors today wrote a must-read response arguing that when it comes to lack of care and responsibility, blame should rather be placed on the politicians who have run health administration into a state of collapse. Either way, such lack of care is horrifying.

It is easy to take moral high ground in such circumstances, but sometimes we’re just as uncaring; we’ve just found ways of clothing our selfishness in diplomatic dress. Such as in church this weekend…

In Religion: Speak to God about it (just don’t make your problems mine)

In the church, we’re champions at spiritualising our selfishness. I spoke on the weekend at a church on the subject of relinquishing our wealth as a necessary part of Christian discipleship. Afterwards, a woman apparently in terrible poverty spoke to me about it, claiming that at other churches, she had been told to bring her problems to God and ‘leave them at the altar’; to let God sort them out. She felt unable to speak about her desperate needs to anyone in the church any longer.

Of course, we must trust God, and God is the ultimate provider. However, telling someone to leave their problems at the altar is another way of making sure that they don’t share their problems with you. We can sound spiritual while also telling people not to bother us with their uncomfortable issues.

The Bible should make us very uncomfortable when it comes to our money and the poor in our congregations, because when it tells us that there ‘shall be no poor among you’, it also tells us the mechanism by which this relief from poverty takes place, namely, those whom God has given much must be generous towards those who have little. For example, in Acts 2 & 4, when there was need, the church would not consider their property to be their own, but would sell something so that they could provide for one another. That’s an often-repeated pattern in the Bible for provision for the poor in our congregations.

Now, the Bible is not at all like communism, and it is true that giving handouts can sometimes do more harm than good. Nevertheless, we do not therein find an excuse to avoid our responsibilities as the rich in the church. Be strategic about how you use the wealth God has leant you, and be sure that you use it for the reasons for which He gave it.

In Politics: Look to the future (Don’t remind me what I did in the past)

A third thing this week that illustrated selfish comfort trumping concern for due responsibility was an article in the City Press, written by Alistair MacKay, called How Whites Can Reconcile. He points out that after the horrors of Apartheid, most whites have coasted along in silence (usually, I’d add, breaking silence to complain that the new government is ‘ruining the country’), until now, 20 years later, we become impatient with people who still feel the hurt and injustice of the past system. As MacKay says:

I saw this comment on reconciliation in South Africa from a white guy the other day: “Why are we still talking about this? Haven’t we done enough?” No, we haven’t.

It’s curious that among white people now, it is hard to find a person who was ever racist during Apartheid. We’ve washed our hands of it and ensure that we now deflect away any blame for that system, because it makes us uncomfortable to be associated with it.

In response to the article, many of the comments demonstrated exactly that, ironically confirming the author’s message in their criticism of him.

“Alistair, what I can remember about apartheid was that it oppressed just about everybody. There is a reason your parents, their friends and acquaintances didn’t ‘toyi-toyi’ outside parliament. They did what they could under the circumstances.” (sean.crookson)

“Oh please, look its your opinion but lets face one fact. You cannot continue to cry about the past. If I hear another person say apartheid I will soil my pants. When can people stop. We live for tomorrow not for what happened yesterday! Maybe it was horrible, maybe it wasn’t so bad. Honestly I do not care.” (Mr.T)

“The past was awful yes, but it is not today and we cannot change it other than changing what we think and feel now, so stop focusing on what was wrong and start focusing on what is right.” (WessBergg)

If I were a sufferer of Apartheid, I’d not be experiencing feelings of forgiveness hearing that whites were oppressed too and did all they could; that we should just live for tomorrow. It’s easy to look forward to tomorrow when today was so pleasant. Not everyone can say that.

Three Lessons: #1 Empathy

We can learn a few things from the mistakes of these commenters. The first thing is empathy. Let’s remember that whites in the past 300 years or so took something like 70% of the best land for the white minority and put the black majority in the remaining 30%. In living memory, many South Africans lost homes and land without compensation due to group areas legislation, and were put in new high-density housing areas.

I don’t think I’m too far wrong if I say that black South Africans weren’t allowed to touch the same crockery or toilets as whites, or go to the same beaches and parks. They couldn’t buy houses in the best neighbourhoods. They had to carry passes to be on their own streets. They could have any job as long as it was manual labour, were forced to study in Afrikaans, and couldn’t vote or tell the newspapers if they didn’t like it. That’s besides the daily attitude and abuse from many whites, ‘special treatment’ from the police, continual propaganda that said they were less valuable, less able, less human. I can still remember how unusual it was to see a black person driving a car in the 80s, and how we as whites would normally suggest that he must have stolen it.

Like me, you may have grown up in a home that aimed at being non-racial, but even still we owe the country an apology. If nothing else, there was not a mass exodus of upset whites to other countries, nothing like the one we have seen since Apartheid fell. We stayed and we didn’t fight what was wrong. That’s bad enough. But I can see — even as someone who hated the more overt racism of my classmates — how part of it I was. We were racists, as much as we might hate to admit it now.

But here is an example of how whites still respond to the suffering caused by Apartheid:

“Great article? It’s just another whining, guilt-tripping piece distorting our past. It’s all to obvious that separate development… was a necessity for Whites to survive and shield them against risks for their livelihoods. Any rational person could have seen that. Ultimately this is shown step by step to be true now. Fact is also that Blacks had a fair chance developing their own communities. And that they were supported in this by the then White government. One may say that Blacks were poorer. Really, but why was that? Despite efforts of Whites to lift them up or due to something else?” (andreas.meyer.12327)

That’s right, whites had to be separate from blacks out of necessity for survival, and the white government was trying to uplift black communities the whole time. The fault was somehow with the blacks. That’s the undistorted version of our history.

“Blacks under apartheid were more literate than black Americans. They also enjoyed the highest standard of living of all blacks in Africa. Even in the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission it is stated that 40% of SA’ns claimed that life was better under apartheid (whites constitute about 9%). The tragedy is that modern youth has become so narrow minded, stupid and uncouth that they can’t distinguish between freedom and slavery anymore.” (alan.secreve)

The fact that we can pull narrow statistics to ‘prove’ that we were actually being kind to black South Africans is startling. It’s sad that people still experience terrible quality of life, but hardly stands as an argument that Apartheid was freedom.

So, fellow whites, when our brothers and sisters of other races are still struggling with pain and dire social circumstances created by Apartheid, try to have a little empathy before you decide to dodge how uncomfortable it makes you feel.

True, we can’t go back and fix what we’ve done, and it will take decades to get beyond it. True, we must look forward. But while we’re moving forward, we can stop making hurt worse by parading opinions that range from pretending we had nothing to do with it, to the idea that blacks should be grateful for what whites did for them in Apartheid.

And while you’re at it…

Lesson #2: Count your blessings

We are extraordinarily good at taking all the credit for our personal achievements and claiming that we never received a dime from anyone. Whites are generally under-appreciative of the benefits we had under Apartheid. Years ago this Zapiro ‘cartoon’ offended me into thinking about it:

I could argue that my upbringing was not privileged — we sometimes had to rely on ‘handouts’ to be able to eat, for example — but it was. I lived on a nature reserve on the edge of a quiet white suburb. There was no poverty and hardly any crime in our areas. I was at excellent schools that were cheap and well resourced. I could even play tennis for free.

When I began my tertiary education, I had to work nights and weekends to support myself for much of it, and I eventually got excluded from the course because I couldn’t pay. Yet for all my life, I had the freedom, government support, and social infrastructure to be able to learn and to excel. I am who I am because I benefitted from Apartheid.

But some say:

Sorry but you are saying that we should feel sorry for other peoples lack to move on. I was born in 1983 and had to work 2 jobs through varsity while my black counterparts had scholarships and used the money to drink and party… JUST because your classy English Family benefited from Apartheid doesn’t mean that all whites were as lucky or unlucky as you… I will not feel ashamed and neither will I apologize for working my ass off to get to be where I am today. (R3ndi3r)

Hard work and struggle is what 95% of people everywhere have to endure. Yes, that is true of many whites under Apartheid, but that is a far cry from receiving no benefit. Everything about Apartheid government was structured to give whites the best and to keep blacks weak. If you are white, you received favour and benefit at the expense of the dispossession and cheap labour of everyone else. To complain that black South Africans are now just seeking handouts is to forget that the whole country was previously engineered for your welfare.

David Wong recently wrote an outstanding article called Six Things Rich People Need To Stop Saying that deals with exactly this attitude, but on a more general level. You should read that article right now.

Lesson 3: Make relevant arguments

Maybe there are some reasons for us not to dwell on the past. Feel free to argue for them when it’s appropriate, but make sure you don’t make hurt and division worse by using irrelevant smokescreens to escape taking responsibility. Take this commenter for example:

Most blacks… are made to believe by their “leaders” that all whites fell into bottomless riches during Apartheid. Taking myself and my family… Afrikaners before WW2 were the poorest Europeans on the planet. My late father had to go to the township in the small town we lived in, to go and BEG for food. World War 2 saved him from poverty… When I finished school,there were no money for university. I had to struggle on my own, leaving South Africa, in the hope i can get my foot in the door somewhere… If I see the opportunities black people have today, in the new South Africa, I feel envy. I did not have those opportunities. Every time I went back to South Africa, to find work, the door just became more shut every time I tried… Just in “AA”, racist (ANC) SA that I had this problem. (HenriLeRiche)

It’s a sad story of struggle. I don’t want to minimise that. But it ends with an invective that calls affirmative action and the present government racist, and none of it has much at all to do with the article that it criticises.

There is ample evidence that white South Africans have showed far too little awareness of how bad their behaviour was and how gracious the current government has been in visiting absolutely no punishment upon whites at all. Even affirmative action is not punishment, and we still have (warning: statistics from my sketchy memory) something like 90% of whites employed, versus less than 60% of the rest, and about 50% of the economy in white ownership. The article is about us dodging responsibility for our role in the past. What does it have to do with anything that some whites aren’t rich, or that the Afrikaaner was also poor once? What does present government performance or policy have to do with it?

We all have reason to be apologetic for our role in Apartheid, even if small, and to be thankful for the grace that black South Africa has thusfar shown. Yes, it is an uncomfortable position to be in, but let’s not make things worse by refusing to let pain that we helped cause intrude upon our comfort.

Peter Bruce fumbles Zuma Spear

Yesterday I posted an article that laments poor analysis of art. This morning’s Business Day includes yet another literalistic interpretation of ‘Spear of the Nation’ that shows little capacity for visual communication. Editor Peter Bruce says,

But I cannot for the life of me understand what he has done to deserve to be immortalised in a painting with his genitals hanging out of his trousers. Too many wives? It’s legal in SA. Rape? He was acquitted. A womaniser? So what, as long as his sex is with consenting adults. What then? Having your genitals depicted in public is a hell of a price to pay for being a rotten political leader, for being weak on economics or beholden to too many political interests. Brett Murray is, of course, free to do as he pleases in this democracy and you could just bet on the ANC to make matters worse by kicking up such a fuss.

But the sad fact is stuff like this only works in a Victorian society like ours. The artist went out of his way to shock and it proved depressingly easy, whatever side of the “debate” you are on. There’s no artistic thought here, merely the prudish notion that you can hurt somebody you disapprove of by pulling his pants down in public and giggling as you run away, this time crying “artistic freedom” as you go. (Business Day)

This again demonstrates confusion about what the painting is and what it means.

Firstly, Jacob Zuma hasn’t has his genitals displayed anywhere public; it’s someone’s drawing of a penis on someone’s drawing of JZ. Similarly, no one pulled JZ’s pants down; they remain firmly around his waist. Both of those are massively important distinctions when it comes to supposed abuse of his dignity. It’s a painting, an idea, not a sexual assault.

Secondly, why the assuption that the painting means what this author thinks it does? Everyone is interpreting it clumsily with zero appreciation of symbolism and the way that protest art communicates. The painting could mean a myriad of things other than ‘JZ’s penis is out too much’. It’s an overly-literal analysis, decrying a field that the author seems not to understand.

Even if this painting is so crass as to be merely taking a shot at Zuma’s embarrassing sexual exploits, why is it so unbelievably hurtful to raise such issues by means of visual protest, but acceptable to tell the entire nation in newspapers like Bruce’s that he impregnated his friend’s daughter? I’d rather someone drew fictional naked pictures of me than made my actual private transgressions into international news. Whose hypocritical ethical yardstick are we being forced to use here?

Full Member of the Ruling Party

Brett Murray’s painting ‘Spear of the Nation’, featuring President Zuma in a VI Lenin pose, with a generously proportioned penis protruding (impossibly) from the shadows, has provoked a storm of controversy, and has been written about so much that it barely warrants any further comment. You can see the painting and read comment here: Mail&Guardian. Then you can read about the attempts at government censorship of the image here: CityPress; and some other decent pun-laden commentary here: Mondli Makhanya.

By the standards of the art world the painting is relatively tame; an artist called Ayanda Mabulu has suddenly gained some attention for also having painted Zuma in the buff (though without controversy), and his stuff is way more shocking. You can look at his Zuma pic here, or a nutty one about Robert Mugabe over here.

Some of the criticism clearly comes from people who do not visit galleries. But there are three areas of the debate that are genuinely shocking that I’d like to raise, because our national tendency towards outrage so frequently misses the point. All of them are embodied in this response from the presidency (Source: CityPress):

Said spokesperson Mac Maharaj: “We are amazed at the crude and offensive manner in which this artist denigrates the person and the office of the President of the Republic of South Africa.

“The Presidency is concerned that Brett Murray fails to appreciate that freedom carries a deep responsibility,” he said in the statement, adding that the right to freedom of artistic expression is not absolute.

Maharaj also said the Presidency was concerned that the painting “perpetuates a shocking new culture by some sections of the artistic world, of using vulgar methods of communicating about leading figures in the country, in particular the President”.

“Intense hatred of the new democratic administration or the ruling party should not translate into distorting South Africa’s value system of emphasising respect and of ensuring that disagreements are expressed in a cultured and civilised manner, which these artists are failing to do.”

1. Moral compass and degeneracy

Maharaj talks about our value system. Last night on the news, Reverend so-and-so was speaking at a high-profile funeral and used the opportunity to speak about the President’s penis (wouldn’t have been my go-to anecdote for a funeral). He expressed dismay that our society has lost its moral compass to such a degree that an artist could sink to such levels of degeneracy. He added that freedom of expression could not be allowed to cover such horrors.

This is utter raving lunacy for a few reasons. Firstly, as I’ve said, this would not have been considered shocking by the standards of the art world for the last number of centuries (even if we only restrict ‘art’ to mean paintings and galleries; literature has been nuttier for longer, and even the Bible is more graphic and passes harsher commentary on its leaders). Where have these people been?

Secondly, our country’s moral compass has been pointing far further south than this painting suggests for a very long time. Yesterday, a suspected thief was beaten by a township mob and then set on fire. Parents rape and kill their own kids here. Even our own wildly polygamous president has a chequered history with sexual abuse, conspiracy, and corruption, which is presumably part of what this painting is protesting. Many of those charges against Zuma remain unproven, but I haven’t heard too many reverends using high-profile funerals to complain that our president fathered a child with his friend’s daughter out of wedlock. If we’re going to talk about moral compass, let’s not imagine that this painting is a step down from our usual standard.

Thirdly, this presidency claims God’s blessing upon his party (see point 4 of this article) such that they will rule ‘until Jesus comes back’. The president — and especially his outraged reverend — should know then that the Bible disagrees strongly with them that leaders deserve unqualified reverence:

Deuteronomy 17:17 “The king must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold. 18 When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is … not (to) consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left.”

Matthew 23:8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi’, for you have only one Master and you are all brothers.”

In both passages, leaders are not to see themselves as superior to ‘ordinary’ citizens. They are brothers. They are not due special respect or disrespect. They are open to the same criticism as the rest of us. If our Christian and political leaders wish to invoke Jesus’ favour, then they should at least share his outlook.

If someone wishes to use their imagination to paint me in the nude then I should be as flattered or insulted as suits my personality, but I should have the same constitutional protections as the president. If it’s libellous for him, it’s libellous for me. None of this ‘But he’s the President (awed hush)’. If you’re not allowed to criticise the president in a democracy, don’t be surprised when you wake to find that you don’t have a democracy.

2. Bad analysis of visual communication

The second problem is that the outrage about this painting is so devoid of analysis appropriate to the field. All public commentary is on the level of ‘It’s Jacob Zuma’, and ‘That’s a penis’, and consequently ‘It’s trying to humiliate Jacob Zuma by showing his penis’. Maharaj’s analysis viewed it as ‘intense hatred’. That’s how toilet-stall graffiti works, but not art.

Visual art communicates primarily on symbolic levels. Depicting Jacob Zuma as the subject could mean lots of things. He could be representing Jacob Zuma, that’s true. But he could also stand for the present government, the ANC more broadly, the whole of the country, and so on. His penis might represent his shame (and so be an attempt at humiliating him), but it could also represent sexualisation of (for example) our society, it could represent abuse of power; it could even represent our government’s moral compass.

In other words, the picture may just as easily be about you, not JZ.

I can understand public misunderstanding of the function of art, because we don’t really study the arts deeply at school, and even if you did, you only had to get 30% in matric to pass, so you might have missed every point that mattered on the way to getting your qualification. But even our ministers overseeing the arts somehow fail to understand their field.

3. Threats to freedom and democracy

The most worrying feature of all is how something so innocuous could now form a new attack upon civic freedoms in this country. By way of reminder, Maharaj said:

“The Presidency is concerned that Brett Murray fails to appreciate that freedom carries a deep responsibility,” he said in the statement, adding that the right to freedom of artistic expression is not absolute.

The government set their lawyers upon the gallery, the newspapers, and anyone else that lingered long enough, trying to destroy the original image and any existing copies. At least they’re currently only sending lawyers. How long before it’s soldiers?

If this picture is indecent, then where does one draw the line? Does one censor Michaelangelo’s David for indecency, as in a famous Simpsons episode about the arts? If the problem is the implied criticism or humiliation of the president, then what about written criticisms that impugn his character or conduct? Is calling the president a dork treason now?

It’s amazing to me that the same people whose blood was shed to win freedom from enslavement to an evil government are willing to sign over those freedoms to a new government, just because they think this one will surely not abuse their trust.

Freedom of expression does carry responsibility, but I would have thought that the ANC of all people would recognise the importance of being able to protest wrongs in government. If anything, one of those responsibilities is to criticise those in power, not to pander to them.

Politics of Hatred in South Africa

South African politics reached a near-miraculous high point under Nelson Mandela, with a much-wronged political leader putting self-sacrifice into practice to lead the whole nation out of its Apartheid mire. His party, the ANC, has been trading on that capital for 20 years, and rightly so. However, that goodwill has been exploited so ruthlessly in recent years, with one corruption scandal after the next, and catastrophic failures of entire provinces, that many of its supporters have become disillusioned and have stopped voting, or have given their vote to the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA). The ANC seems to be genuinely concerned by the ground they’ve lost, because more than ever, the political tactic is to brand their opponents as racist, even with all the evidence to the contrary.

The best recent example involves the DA leader Helen Zille’s remark on Twitter that people flocking from the ANC-run  Eastern Cape province to the DA-run Western Cape in order to find proper schooling are ‘education refugees’. The migration has been happenning because of scandalous corruption and mismanagement of schooling in the ECape, which has brought it to the brink of collapse. The department managed to spend only 28% of its budget in the face of incredible need, compared with the WCape, which spent all of theirs. Instead of public discussion raging about this awful deprivation of the right to education in the ECape, certain sectors began decrying Zille’s fairly innocuous metaphor (‘education refugees’) as racist. Our country has now spent a whole month pretending to be shocked about that statement, while the near-fatal pillaging of the ECape by its leaders is hardly an issue.

In the Papers Today

In this morning’s Star, the front page reports on Patric Mellet (a senior Home Affairs official) who spewed a deeply offensive rant on Facebook about Zille’s supposed racism.

The Star quotes him as saying:

The Devolved Apartheid Party (DA) are now really going back to their roots… Zille everyday more and more sounds like PW Botha… the skew mouth, the wagging finger, the voice with the wry smile and pregnant pause, and the Apartheid talk about alien refugees flooding into the White-Coloured Labour Preference Area… wow… this closely follows her Butcher of Hangberg orders to deal ruthlessly with opposition resulting in ‘the shoot the eyes out of protesters’ action by kitskonstabels.

Mein Fuhrer Helen Zille motormouth does not cease to amaze with her cloned NP style.

The DA really have become the Devolved Apartheid Party. How she justifies her racist rants just deepens the foot in mouth disease. PW Botha has risen from the dead. She really does him proud.

Now let’s see on what the comparisons to Hitler and Apartheid villain PW Botha are based:

  • finger wagging
  • pausing and smiling while speaking in public
  • ‘Apartheid talk about alien refugees flooding into’ the Cape

The first two points are shameful in their own way. The argument is, ‘Hitler used standard public-speaking techniques; Botha used standard public-speaking techniques; Zille uses standard public-speaking techniques. Therefore Zille is a hateful, racist Apartheid psycho.’

Zuma and Malema use the same rhetorical techniques when they speak, so are they also returning to Apartheid politics? Of course not. It is a ridiculous, cheap ploy to transfer similarity in one area (physical appearance) to other areas (political ideology) without any relevant evidence.

So what about the evidence?
The last point has the appearance of evidence, but again, it is misleading. Mellet clearly believes that Zille’s statement was motivated by xenophobic hatred for refugees, because he’s spewing this on Facebook, not in some political point-scoring forum. But he’s believing his own party’s spin on words that she herself never said (‘alien refugees flooding’). In fact, Zille herself explained a week ago on the party’s newsroom page what her not-very-unclear refugee metaphor means:

That brings me to the matter of the “education refugees”,  which is how I described the thousands of learners who arrive during the course of the first term in Western Cape schools, because their right to education has been betrayed in their home province, the Eastern Cape.  These learners accounted for 44% of all new registrations, from Grade 1 to Grade 12, in Western Cape schools this year.  This student migration is the major reason we are undertaking an emergency school building programme to complete 45 new schools within our term of office (while the Eastern Cape spent a paltry 28% of its infrastructure budget last year).  The difference is clear: We treat all children as full, legitimate South African citizens and we respect their right to education. The ANC does not.

This is the real scandal.  But it was buried by the eruption of pseudo outrage about the word “refugees” – which was conveniently uncoupled from its qualifying noun “education”. Very soon it became “self-evident” that I had referred to all black people in the Western Cape as “refugees”.  And, of course, this was irrefutable “proof” of my “racism”.

In other words, the idea that the DA is opposed to the presence of ECape people was drummed up by those trying to make her look bad. She herself was describing the ECape like a warzone from which people must flee (hence ‘refugee’), and pointing out that they are in the process of building new schools so that they can serve these people. Her concern is for the worrying state of the ECape and the shortage of schools in the WCape as a result. There is no mention of the undesirability of the people in the slightest. Generally, if you want to prevent refugees from staying in your land, you don’t accommodate them. And generally, if you’re trying to be a racist and keep a certain group beaten down, you don’t educate them. I don’t know why the ANC doesn’t care about educating people in the ECape, but Zille and her ilk are the ones trying to improve their lot. What a freaking racist she is (that’s sarcasm, if you’re bad at metaphor and irony).

So Mellet, a person acquainted (I hope) with metaphor, context, and the DA Newsroom website, should have had no trouble differentiating between what Zille said and meant, and what spin doctors have said about it. The fact that he even complains about her attempts at explaining, when he clearly needs the explanation, is even more horrifying.

So What?

One of the online comments to the Star article thought that this was just a case of name-calling of the sort that takes place all the time in politics. He said:

it funny dat helen zille can call President Zuma names but when it happens to her people must be fired.

Name-calling is always regrettable, and Zille is obviously not always impeccable, but there’s a difference between name-calling and attempting to sow racial hatred by likening someone to an Apartheid monster. The latter is slander, and it might even qualify as racial incitement and hate speech (a British student was imprisoned for racist joking on Twitter recently on these grounds).

One way or another, it is yet another instance in a long line of ANC accusations of racism in the DA, when the evidence is uniformly to the contrary. If you say something enough times, people will start to believe it, and it seems to be the weapon that the ANC is employing to attempt to discredit their opposition, who have an annoying habit of not running provinces into the ground. But if the ANC is having to drum up racism that isn’t there, then who is the one guilty of Apartheid divisiveness?

This tactic seems to me to be an attempt to bring back the divisions of 20 years ago so that it can once again be ‘the ANC against the racist oppressor’; it is an attempt to restock Nelson Mandela’s political capital without having Mandela’s integrity. And sadly, if some of the comments on the Star article are any indication, it is working.

The Failure of Successful Complaints

Easter is near and that seems to mean that certain Christians assume the Meerkat position, scanning the horizon for anyone who dares to give the Way a hint of disrespect during this the most holy of holy seasons. As usual, they could care less whether damage to the faith accrues as a net result of their actions, as long as no one gets the idea that it’s OK to mess with us. Or — a defence I’ve actually heard Christians make — as long as the Muslims don’t outstrip us in zeal. That’s the height of our ambitions. Sigh.

Red Bull ‘Jesus’ Ad

The ad has been removed from YouTube, so I’ve not seen it, but Gateway News gives a thorough description. The ad suggests that Jesus’ water-walking miracle was a matter of walking on stepping stones, which is not really funny, but given the usual level of humour employed by Red Bull, it’s at least recognisable as comedy.

Following this, the Jesus character stumbles and exclaims, ‘Jesus!’. I would agree that this is actually offensive and not nearly clever enough to warrant the risk. Red Bull claims they never meant to hurt any feelings and regret offence caused, but that’s hard to believe. Ads go through multiple levels of review and approval before reaching TV; there is zero doubt that its offence level was well discussed. Red Bull merely gambled on it being funny enough to outweigh any upset. I’m amazed that 90% of Red Bull ads weren’t sent back to the drawing board for being utterly rubbish, and Red Bull should apologise for that too, but they should not pretend to regret anything.

Having said all that, Christian response has been typically ridiculous, displaying utter inability to bear the slightest offence. For example:

  • Errol Naidoo of the Family Policy Institute says: “Red Bull wouldn’t dream of mocking religious figures of other religions [the 'why aren't we as scary as the Muslims?' argument again]… FPI is launching a nationwide boycott of Red Bull products in response to this blasphemous attack on the Lord Jesus Christ.” [Source]
  • Cardinal Wilfred Napier of the SA Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) said, “While the Red Bull adverts are characterised by their cleverness [obviously he hasn't watched TV in a while]… we suggest that the marketing team and their advertising and public relations companies make a serious effort to attend sensitivity training… [After advocating that Catholics should abstain from Red Bull until Easter] Red Bull SA will understand that the idea that there is ‘no such thing as bad publicity’ is dangerous territory when it comes to mocking religious symbols.” [Source]
  • The African Christian Democratic Party says that the ad undermines the Christian faith, with Kenneth Moshoe saying that it denies “the miracle of Jesus walking on water” [although undermining the Christian faith through pettiness or stupidity seems not to count]. [Source]

All of the above also called for the immediate banning of the ad. This was duly done after the Advertising Standards Authority upheld a complaint against the ad, which included these among its reasons:

  • The commercial is offensive as it makes a mockery of Jesus Christ by portraying Him in a blasphemous manner. Peripheral arguments to the allegation of offence relate to the fact that the commercial implies that the miracle of Jesus walking on water was all a sham.
  • Christians believe that Jesus Christ is alive and sitting at the right hand of God and as such His express permission should have been obtained before being featured in the commercial.
  • The advertiser should apologise publicly and should be fined as well to indicate the level of offence caused.
  • Creates a bad example for children.
  • Its misleading as it creates an impression that the product existed during the time that Jesus Christ lived. [Source]

(Assuming that the source is reliable) seriously, advertisers need Jesus’ ‘express permission’ before he is referenced in an ad? And people might think that Red Bull was available in 1st Century Palestine (wait a minute! I thought it was a product from the time of Icarus, because of that other ad of theirs; I’m so confused)? Was this application a joke? An attempt to make Christians look like morons? My ASA application would have read:

  • Using ‘Jesus’ as an expletive is offensive to Christians. This should be cut from the ad.
  • It’s yet another unfunny entry in Red Bull’s 20-year-long one-note campaign. The account manager should be publicly executed.

You know, reasonable requests. Why was it necessary to pad out the list with other manufactured and intellectually insulting reasons?

Hot Cross Buns

Having cut ‘Joy’ magazine from its shelves, Woolworths agreed last year to restock the rag due to outcry from Christian sectors (who obviously hadn’t been buying enough for Woolies to bother stocking it, but who liked the idea of it being there). This season, Woolworths has received complaints — and even warnings that God might shut them down — because their hot cross bun packaging has Halaal certification printed on it.

Jacques Rousseau has written pointing out that this has been the case for years, and is in any case stupid because Easter and Christianity has no monopoly on cinnamon fruit buns (or even crosses, for that matter). You can read his post here.

I began writing this post because I am concerned that Christian oversensitivity is wearing out any goodwill that society has (but is under no obligation to have) towards us. My brief digging around provided instant confirmation of this. Here’s a quote from a blogger:

However, for me, it’s just another nail in the coffin as far as christian credibility is concerned. And to be honest, we’re running out of space on the lid now. When members of a religion (or any other group) display such stupid, irrational (shock) and intolerant behaviour, there comes a point when society will simply stop listening. (6000.c0.za)

As I have pointed out before, such Christians seem not to realise that society owes us nothing, and constant ridiculous bleating from our corner about how pained we all are is not going to have the outcome they they subliminally imagine (society realises how respect-worthy Christianity is and bow in hushed reverence / abandon pluralism / spontaneously convert and usher in the Kingdom). Rather there are two much more likely extremes towards which policy makers are going to be pushed.

  • They will tire of listening to the Christian voice because of how uniformly annoying it is when attention is paid to it (much as 6000.co.za suggests), which will leave us with no voice on issues that matter; or
  • They will try to minimise offence by making it illegal to display or promote religious content altogether, making religion completely private. Now if you want to approach the Day of Judgement with the defence, ‘I stopped everyone doing the Great Commission, because it was more important for me not to be offended,’ be my guest.

Axe Excite Deodorant ‘Angels’ Ad

Finally, going back a few months now, there was another case of Christians having an ad banned from TV; this time Axe Deodorant was compelled to remove its ‘Angels’ ad. You can see various versions on YouTube, so look it up if you want, but all of them have beautiful women with wings and halos dropping from the sky and eventually surrendering their angelness because of some guy wearing deodorant.

Cape Times of October 28, 2011 reports the extremely tongue-in-cheek apology rendered by Axe South Africa, who again, remarkably, were not apologising for the quality of the ad but the religious content:

We have… made sure the seriousness of the matter is understood by our angels… From now on [the angels will] try their very best to resist the seductive powers of the Axe effect. Those who are continuing to use Axe Excite in the hope of seducing angels, please note — whilst there is no individual danger of disciplinary action from the ASA, the angels have been known to come in at quite a speed, and the use of Axe Excite is completely at your own risk.

The report adds that the company apologises to offended viewers (i.e. ‘You’re idiots, but sorry’). Their statement above (to their credit, in my opinion) is not an apology, it is an exercise in polite mockery:

  • the promise to communicate with the angels, keeping up the pretence that the angels are real, is an ironic reminder that the ad is communicating on the level of fairytale
  • the reassurance that users are not liable for disciplinary action highlights the absurdity of the action that was taken

It is absolutely true that angels are not exclusively Judeo-Christian beings. They may or may not have originated there, but for some time now they have been part of mythology in general. For one, biblical angels are not female; and it is not as if every Hallmark Valentines card featuring Cupid is an attack on the Faith, or that there is an outcry every time a cartoon character dies and becomes an angel. There are no religious grounds therefore for Christians to be offended, let alone to file an official complaint. And so the over-sensitivity and thoughtlessness of the complaint justifiably meets with Axe’s sarcasm-doused ‘apology’. Score another victory for the embattled reputation of Christ.

Beware: Possible hint of suggestive imagery. Not sure.

There appears to be a storm spilling out of its teacup and soiling a perfectly good saucer all because of some poorly chosen stock photography. The Democratic Alliance Student Somethingorother have published a poster which has been described by some as ‘shocking’. It features a beefy white guy hugging a non-beefy non-white non-male person who may or may not be indecently dressed. I for one would like the guy to put on a shirt, because really, some of us struggle to put on muscle mass. It’s unkind.

Anyway, the poster is so shocking that I am completely willing to post it on this site, which will automatically email it to my mother (hi mom!).Shocking No, it really isn’t shocking at all.

While some writers have intentionally misunderstood the meaning of the poster for comedic effect (it does invite some ridicule unfortunately), it quite clearly means to communicate that the DASO aims at a non-racial future in which the scene pictured will illicit no surprise. It’s an entirely praiseworthy message, although depending on the context, bumping into people apparently that undressed will hopefully always cause a double-take.

In spite of it not being any more shocking than day-time television, the Christian Democratic Party went to town on it. Theunis Botha, clearly unfamiliar with the extremes, claims that it is ‘distasteful to the extreme’, and that it promotes sexual immorality and promiscuity. He adds:

“In a country with high levels of Aids and an overdose of crime, especially the high incidence of farm murders this year, this poster sends the opposite message to the country than needed.” (Source: Mail & Guardian)

Of course, this is ridiculously far from reality. The couple isn’t doing anything lewd, and who says that what they may or may not be planning won’t be taking place within the bonds of holy matrimony? There is not much immoral or voyeuristic about the image either, because even though it is slightly racier than Jacob Zuma’s last election poster, the couple in view might easily be on the beach; there is nothing more revealing here than is on display onyour average day out with your kids to the seaside. The poster certainly isn’t advocating sex or spreading STDs, and it doesn’t promote promiscuity, unless seeing biceps the size of my thigh sends you into an uncontrollable frenzy. It may encourage farm murders, but I have yet to spot the connection.

As a Christian, I’m extremely disappointed that a Christian party would try to score cheap points against a rival on such flimsy moralistic grounds. Is it really serving any sort of discussion in this country to oppose a message of racial harmony because of an excessive amount of arm skin? Is it really necessary to radicalise your disagreement so that vaguely tittilating imagery must be described as ‘distasteful to the extreme’? In connection with a poster about racism, must you bring up farm murders, the big white-advocacy issue of our day?

I wish Christian parties were rather at the cutting edge of positive change, good ideas for promoting peace and reconciliation, for combatting poverty and so on. Instead we get this. It’s annoying that in response to a poster encouraging unity any Christian politician should be leading the polarising, petty, divisive rhetoric against it. The first step to overcoming our national problems just really isn’t the banning of pictures of hugging.

Voting Season Rolls Around Again

A vote for the DA is a vote for the Devil, and when you vote for them, the ancestors will be angry. And then the shock of your non-ANC-vote will kill Mandela, which in turn will make the ancestors more angry. The anger of the ancestors will then cause the Devil to be made manifest on earth, and then he’ll join the DA and try to con you out of your vote by using good service delivery. Vote ANC.

References:

“When you vote for the ANC, you are also choosing to go to heaven. When you don’t vote for the ANC you should know that you are choosing that man who carries a fork,” Zuma said. “When you are carrying an ANC membership card, you are blessed. When you get up there, there are different cards used but when you have an ANC card, you will be let through to go to heaven.”

http://www.sowetanlive.co.za/news/2011/02/07/devil-of-a-row-over-zuma-s-god-remarks

“When you put a cross, there are two things you must see. The first line of the cross you must say ‘happy birthday’ Walter Sisulu; the second cross you must say ‘get well Madiba’, because you are doing it for the ANC,” Malema said in Port Elizabeth on Wednesday. “President Mandela is sick and you don’t want to contribute to a worsening condition of Mandela by not voting ANC. President Mandela will never endure if the ANC is out of power,” the youth leader said, according to a quote published in The Star.

http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/Politics/Malema-Vote-for-ANC-for-Mandela-alive-20110407

“The ancestors will be upset if Nelson Mandela Bay is lost because this is the home of the ANC,” Zuma told a crowd of about 25 000 at Dan Qeqe Stadium.

http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/Local-Elections-2011/Zuma-again-threatens-wrath-of-ancestors-20110513