Your July editorial argues for privileging feelings over facts, in certain circumstances. The reflex is understandable, even commendable, but following it in the Zille/Ntuli case — complete with a Holocaust analogy — is highly problematic.
Apart from the obvious concerns around truth and free speech, there are three more-nuanced objections to this approach.
Firstly, there’s the danger that over-prioritising hurt and anger can feed into new pathologies. Colonialism had a terrible impact on African society, and self-esteem, but by denying it any upside we run a real risk of consolidating a culture of vengeance and entitlement. The majority of black South Africans have continued to exhibit extraordinary forbearance and graciousness — but there’s been a growing element of sectarian loathing in the public utterances of, amongst others, the FMF and the BLF movements. It’s not that this emotion is inexplicable, just that it’s inimical to the building of a tolerant, harmonious and prosperous society. Praising Colonialism without provocation is unacceptable; mentioning its practical yields, in the face of strident calls for violent land grabs, is something else entirely.
Confusion about the status of land, and of private property in general, is the basis of the second note of caution. Colonialism is an ill-defined term, covering a wide range of interactions, over a long period of time — but it’s come to be conflated with white-dominated capitalism. Capitalism itself is a profoundly flawed model of distributive justice — and the source of all manner of environmental, societal and spiritual degradation — but we do need to consider the astonishing material advances it has produced. So, while I strongly believe in significantly higher taxes on the rich, I worry that if we allow the whites-are-thieving-scum narrative to take hold, there’s a substantial danger that we end up like Venezuela or Zimbabwe. It’s a hard point to digest, intellectually and emotionally, but self-serving and exploitative activities can have powerfully positive outcomes (even as those born of noble urges can bring entire countries to ruin).
My third and final point has to do with careless moral framing, and it gets uncomfortably close to home.
For four decades, from the late 1950s, South Africa was the polecat of the world, defined thus in terms of an estimable cause (non racialism) led by a somewhat less-estimable cabal (the over-zealous left). Parallels between the Nats and the Nazis were freely drawn, despite the fact that white–black power relations internationally mimicked those which applied within our borders. In 1990 though, that all changed — at which point the lamentocrats turned their wrathful attention northwards — to another white settler society. To “Apartheid Israel”.
The average Chronicle reader will recoil at that description, and rightly so, but my point is that part of the reason such canards take hold is that we are (all) too prone to righteous indignation and to hyperbolic denunciation. The idea of fighting evil abroad makes our lives less boring and more meaningful — and we face no sanction when we get the moral mathematics wrong. To the contrary, as long as we’re on the side of the weak — or the apparently weak — we get extra plaudits, and extra satisfaction, from ramping up the abuse.
The politics of resentment pervades progressive academies, everywhere. We who care not only about social justice but also about freedom, need to push against this phenomenon, lest it imperils both those ideals. Identifying the problem, within us and without, is a good place to start.
“A self ordained professor’s tongue
Too serious to fool;
Spouted out that liberty
Is just equality in school.
Equality I spoke the word
As if a wedding vow;
Ah but I was so much older then,
I’m younger than that now”