Warning: too much time on the phone with psychopaths causes racial hatred
ONE of the few advantages a regular newspaper column affords its author is the opportunity to ridicule one's readers week after week.
It's an extraordinary symbiosis, that of columnist and reader, but one has to be careful not to abuse the privilege of always having the last word.
Jon Qwelane, who writes a splenetic Saturday column for the Independent group of newspapers, is a respected journalist and broadcaster. Sometimes I love what he writes, at other times I find him infuriating - but I never find him boring.
Qwelane's stock in trade is industrial-strength controversy and the postman doubtless staggers under the weight of the sacks of hate mail he receives every week. In the past two weeks he has had a man called Roger Sinclair firmly in his sights.
Mr Sinclair (who writes from that bastion of white privilege, Parktown North) had the misfortune to have a letter published in the Saturday Star in which he had the temerity to refer to "isolated" incidents of racially motivated violence and, as evidence of the spirit of reconciliation, mentioned his efforts in helping his domestic worker acquire her own home.
In the first of his diatribes, Jon labelled Sinclair a "guilt-ridden conservative-liberal English-speaking type" and mocked his attempts at helping his domestic worker own her own family home as an act of "conscience salving".
Parktown North is not famous for its giraffe braais or mampoer festivals, and I happen to know that I am the only person in the neighbourhood who regularly wears khaki bush fatigues while on blockwatch.
So the description of Roger Sinclair as a conservative-liberal (surely a contradiction in terms?) is ludicrously inappropriate, even though it is causing much mirth among members of the International Wine & Food Society where Sinclair holds the rank of Grand Imperial Wizard and regularly dresses in white bed sheets and pillow cases with small eye holes cut so that he can keep an eye on the evening's sacrifice.
As far as guilt is concerned, the nearest Roger Sinclair has ever come to guilt is emptying the dregs of a bottle of good burgundy into his glass before anyone else gets the chance. Even then, it was only fleeting guilt.
So we can dismiss Jon's exaggerated description of Roger Sinclair for the artful prattle it is. He is clearly trawling for new readers. Sinclair correctly uses the word "isolated" to describe racial violence but as his letter was published at the same time as the horrific Benoni shooting of a six-month-old black child by a white man, Qwelane mischievously usurps that emotional incident to suggest that all whites, given a gun and a conveniently located group of unarmed black children, would tighten their fingers on the trigger. Unless crime statistics are being horribly suppressed, we know that is not the case.
I have no problem with Jon Qwelane's regular use of his weekly column to lambaste what he calls "arrogant" whites; I am sure he finds it as therapeutic as I find writing about shamelessly corrupt black politicians.
Where Qwelane loses the plot, though, is to take his reader's comments out of context and present them as evidence of the irrefutable racial hatred he imagines to be all around him.
However, it is in his comments about Sinclair's attempts to help his domestic worker own her own home that Qwelane reveals an unenviable bitterness. He says Sinclair appears to think this "epoch-making" and that the world must know about his "belated generosity".
"What the dear man forgets," he loftily pronounces, "is that the right to shelter is exactly that - a basic human right, not a privilege."
Precisely, Jon. So what on earth are people like Roger Sinclair and many others doing foolishly wasting their hard-earned taxed income helping blacks to own their own homes when the popularly elected government should be providing them free of charge anyway? Despite Qwelane's jaundiced view, I would suggest it has very little to do with conscience salving or post-colonial guilt.
On the contrary, I suspect that, beyond the racial hatred that Jon Qwelane sees all around him, there are people of all colours getting on with their lives and trying to help their fellow citizens.
Perhaps poor Jon has spent too many lonely nights cooped up in a radio studio listening to the nocturnal ramblings of the gallimaufry of insomniacs, psychopaths and assorted loonies who have nothing more constructive to do with their lives than phone radio call-in programmes.
My advice is to get out and meet some real people Jon.