Please don't mention Julius Caesar - I could be traumatised for days
AS OSCAR Wilde remarked, "there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about". So, it was with a mixture of disbelief and amusement that I read the Human Rights Commission's case against me. Eventually, I decided that either it was an elaborate practical joke or business was a bit slow on the human rights front and poor Barney Pityana was casting around for something to occupy his day. Human rights commissions usually concentrate on serious issues like unexplained death in detention, poor prison conditions, police brutality and child abuse. Clearly nothing like that is happening in SA at the moment and the HRC has been forced to spread its net and concentrate on more subtle human rights abuses such as subliminal racism in the media.
The accusation is that I am guilty of using hate speech in this column. My accusers are two organisations I have never heard of, one calling itself the Black Lawyers' Association and the other the Association of Black Accountants. Their case against me is so flimsy that even the HRC (which, one suspects, had already made up its mind that I was guilty) realised that they would be wasting time and money pursuing it and eventually declined to investigate the complaints. One example the complainants chose as evidence of "hate speech" was from a column written earlier this year during the Clinton visit which mocked the yearning of many African-Americans to return to Mother Africa; an idea they find very attractive until they realise that, had their ancestors not been abducted by slave traders, they too could be living in a tin shack with no electricity or running water. According to my accusers, this comment was deeply offensive to many Africans who still bear the scars of those traumatic times a few hundred years ago.
Strangely enough, when the article was published it provoked absolutely no reaction, so I must assume that the thousands who found the article so "deeply offensive" suffered in noble silence. Not to be outdone when it comes to claiming to be a victim of a cruel history, I too bear deep scars of the Roman invasion of my country of birth and am still trying to come to terms with straight roads, baths and linguini. It's a long healing process and it doesn't help when people insensitively mention the name Julius Caesar.
The HRC invited me to defend myself, which I declined for several reasons. Firstly, the supporting evidence was so appallingly contrived and rambling that it was impossible to determine what exactly was being complained about and therefore to answer any charges. Secondly, the complaint came not from individuals but from two amorphous organisations which had been used to hide the true identities of the complainants. Finally, even if I had been able to answer the accusation of the Black Lawyers' Association and the Association of Black Accountants, I would not have done so because my conscience forbids me to have any dealings with racially exclusive organisations. Since the key entry requirement for both organisations would appear to be a black skin, I must assume that both are in contravention of our new constitution which, as I understand it, prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race and colour. It is a strange irony that I should be accused of hate speech and racism by two groups which practise racial segregation.
Although the complaints specifically against the Mail and Guardian and The Sunday Times will no longer be investigated, the HRC has nevertheless decided it could be onto a good thing and has declared that it will launch a general investigation into racism in the media. It seems particularly concerned with what it calls subliminal racism. This is racism that is so subtle that only highly trained members of the HRC are able to sniff it out. Because nobody can actually define what constitutes subliminal racism, the HRC will be able to strut around for months pretending to investigate something that nobody understands. Nice work if you can get it.
Meanwhile, the HRC can busy itself with some examples of overt racism in the media. For example, the Madam and Eve cartoon strip continues to portray black domestic servants as lazy and cunning. Perhaps it's time to round up Messrs Francis, Dugmore and Rico for a nice quiet chat. Then there's the editor of the telephone directory who insists on calling one of his books "White Pages". You can't get more subliminal than that.