Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Online Letter
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
In this time between Palm Sunday and Easter, my mind is drawn to the extraordinary capacity of man to both love and hate. It seems so contradictory that the masses could welcome Christ with adulation and praise, and within seven days be spitting the venom of murderous intent.
But such extremes of the human heart are expressed from moment to moment in popular culture today. Mass media has created a fickle following where today’s media darling is tomorrow’s whipping boy. I myself have been awarded "Newsmaker of the Year" by the South African Society of Journalists and "Man of the Year" by the Financial Mail, and yet still suffer the invectives of some journalists.
Of course it is the business of the media to evoke strong emotion, because sensationalism sells. Thus every lapse of judgment on the part of Julius Malema must be reported on, just as every cross-cultural adoption by a Hollywood A-Lister must be debated.
What is "newsworthy" is largely determined by how much righteous anger, fear, jealousy, compassion, bitterness or satisfaction it will generate. But we have come to rely so heavily on our media to tell us what is important, that we doubt the significance of anything that is not published.
Take for instance the minor earth tremor that was felt in the Boland on Monday. Unsure about the veracity of their experience, people scoured the newspapers the next morning, calling in to radio stations to confirm this somewhat insignificant event. One station announced that it hadn’t made the news. However, an Afrikaans daily did report it.
One might conclude that what is significant to one community may not be newsworthy to another. In a couple of weeks time, the Jewish community will mark Yom HaShoah, a commemoration of the Holocaust of World War II that saw six million Jewish lives swept away in the whirlwind of an evil ideology. It is unlikely that Yom HaShoah will make headline news in all our papers.
Nevertheless, the Holocaust brings us back to a contemplation of the capacity of man for hatred. We find it difficult to attribute such unspeakable malevolence to human nature, preferring to focus it on one man.
For if the potential for evil lies within us all, we must face this capacity in ourselves. It is easier to believe that only some are born with the seed of evil, awaiting the outcome of nature and nurture.
Throughout history, man has displayed such animal savagery that the theory of evolution is given a boost. One would be forgiven for thinking that the distinction between man and animal is a matter of scale. For instance, faced with an inaccessible termite hill, a Chimpanzee can use a stick as a tool, enhancing the design by adding saliva. But only human beings could develop a tool that can keep a heart rhythmic. Any number of animals adapt to hostile environments, but only human beings can move into a desert and create Las Vegas. It is a matter of magnitude and scale.
We see cruelty in nature; death and savagery. But nature could not come up with a Holocaust. And while one species may instinctively dislike another, there is no collective memory of a specific event that causes division even generations down the line.
One characteristic exclusive to man is symbolism. The Magpie collects shiny objects to decorate its nest, which may even convey its status. But nowhere in the animal kingdom do we see such intense value and significance conferred on objects, images or symbols as we do among humans.
Our collective consciousness enables us to recognize the concept of romance when we see a rose, or peace when we see a dove. There are symbols inimitable to cultures and peoples, even to families. There is perhaps no greater example than family crests and national flags. These are emblems of identity for which man will live, die and even kill.
We identify strongly with symbols that denote where we belong in the social structure. There is something vastly more significant about cultural identity than simply the survival of the fittest. Stags may lock horns and battle for superiority of the herd. But man fights not only for survival or status, but for the right to hold certain values, ideologies and beliefs.
The struggle of the Zulu Nation for recognition of the monarchy and individuation has spanned generations, and will continue into the future for as long as anyone identifies with the Zulu heritage. As a Zulu, I was proud to participate in the official opening of the 10th International Convention of the Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) on Sunday, knowing that the Indian community has also struggled for recognition.
Similarly, the struggle of the Afrikaner to have his cultural identity acknowledged, respected and protected will go on. It is more than ignorance that births the problems we are facing right now with the "Kill the Boer" song. It is deep-seated hatred and division that could cost us all dearly.
But I suspect there is something more.
It is quite extraordinary that the ruling Party has declared that it is taking on appeal the decision of the High Court that singing this song constitutes hate speech. Where has all the fuss about the so-called Rainbow Nation gone? What contribution does such a song make to our reconciliation as a nation?
For someone that falls back on the accusation of racism nine times out of ten, Mr Malema personifies the racism that still exists in enclaves of our society. Speaking at the GOPIO Convention, I pointed out that the friendship and fellowship that used to exist between young blacks and young Indians during apartheid just doesn’t seem evident today. This alone isn’t racism; but it provides a fertile breeding ground for division to grow.
There is no denying the historical fact that apartheid used the age-old military tactic of divide and conquer, exploiting our different cultural identities to drive a wedge between us. The Washington Afro-American of 19 August 1986 quotes these words, allegedly penned by the then President PW Botha: "The point now is that there must be hatred between those two nations (meaning coloureds and Indians) and black South Africans so that they will fight among themselves and keep their minds off the whites."
Thank God that is all in the past. But then one must ask for what purpose the ANC Youth League is now employing the tactic of social division. The surface suggests simple hatred and racism. But what lies beneath? What is this grandstanding trying to "keep our minds off"?
I do not wish to add suspicion to the delicate social discourse of the present. But I do think it worthwhile to dig deeper and try to understand what value division brings to its wielders. The dangers of allowing social division to run its course may be more varied than we think.
What are we ignoring while we focus on Malema?
Yours in the Service of the Nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP