Of beaches, monkeys and good old days: how social media race-talk is dismantling the ‘rainbow nation’

Shepherd Mpofu


The rainbow nation project has been lauded across the world as a miracle. But this project has remained elusive in many different ways. Or if the ‘rainbow’ analogy were taken to mean the differentiated colours, which do not congeal and parallel forms of existence, then South Africa may be rightly called a rainbow nation ‘miracle’ (Tutu 1994, 252). ‘Miracle’ because the more things changed the more they have remained the same. South Africa remains the most unequal and segregated country on earth. Netshitenzhe argues that ‘the socio-economic faultlines of colonialism remain largely intact, with few black individuals advancing up the socio-economic hierarchy’ (2015, 115). The current imagination of the country as a rainbow nation is a bit over romanticized with Radhakrishnan (2017) arguing that the ideal of the rainbow nation as imagined and championed by Nelson Mandela, the first democratic president of the country, ‘has faded from national memory as narrow ethnic and racial identities continue to structure everyday life’ (2019, 127).

Soon after the end of Apartheid, that is the dawn of democracy in 1994, there was euphoria of a black government taking over and this disrupted official and politicized racism, but it seems there remained another form of apartheid, or rather, there was a sustenance of the older order albeit under a new watchman — the black government. Notice here that in this chapter I use Apartheid to denote the official, evil, racist system of governance pre-1994 and I used apartheid with a small ‘a’ to denote the dream deferred and missed opportunities. This chapter uses qualitative data drawn from a digital ethnographic study to demonstrate that social media have played a critical role as a site of racial conflict where white racists express their views in an unfettered fashion to the detriment of social cohesion. Most devastating to Mandela and what he stood for, social media racist conflict has arisen after his death. This, the chapter argues, in as much as it is helpful to expose the weaknesses of the rainbow nation project also helps show the role of ordinary people in nation building and national cohesion. For South Africa, such projects as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) could be said to have achieved less in terms of national cohesion and closure when we consider the debates on social media.

The rainbow nation project has been systematically condemned in the arts, literature and official for and by mainstream political leaders. For instance, the enigmatic Afrikaner novelist J.M. Coetzee (1999) explores the dilemma of whites in the rainbow nation and sceptically concludes that they are ‘damned in the new purgatorial space’ (Mpofu 2018). For Coetzee (1999), the coming of the new dispensation where blacks are in charge heralds disorder where rape is used to assert power by the new owners of the land who are just but, as Fanon argues, lawless, penises, sexually depraved and intellectually weak (Mpofu, 2018). Popular anti-apartheid activist and poet Mbuli once asked ‘irainbow nation yona iphi? (Where is the rainbow nation?) in one of his poems in the album Mbulism (2004). This poignant question asked ten years after the ‘death’ of Apartheid makes much more sense and should continually be asked especially given the current race-related conflicts obtaining on social media speak directly to the continuation of apartheid where whites fight for certain spaces as theirs and inaccessible to blacks as was the case during Apartheid.

Filmmaker Desai (2004), in his documentary, also explores the meaning of the rainbow nation which brings to the fore the rejection of the rainbow nation by whites through telling the story of Orania, an Afrikaner town in Northern Cape where only Afrikanners live, with its own economy. It is a ‘whites-only enclave’, a recreation of the pre-1994 South Africa. The spokesperson for Orania, Eleanor Lombard, argues that the enclave is not a rejection of the post-Apartheid setup but has a right to exist because ‘South African society is like a fruit salad - if I am allowed to be whatever I am - a banana, an apple or whatever - I can add to the flavor... if I am all squashed up, I cannot contribute’ (BBC 2004). In as much as the fruit salad analogy captures the post 1994 rainbow nation project it also creates problems. In a fruit salad, some fruits are likely going to dominate the taste over others and therefore the amount of racial hatred directed towards black people helps magnify the argument that be it a rainbow or fruit salad inequalities are entrenched, sustained and magnified. Besides, there is no black in the rainbow. Xolela Mangcu’s (2015) and Ivor Chipkin’s (2007) books adds a critical voice to the debates on race relations and national identity project in South Africa from an intellectual standpoint. Qunta (2016) rejects the notion of the rainbow nation and, instead, highlights the craters that divide South Africa into two nations observed by Mbeki as a testimony to the post-Apartheid failures. If all these voices are critical in the checking of the pulse of the rainbow nation then Mbeki’s intervention as a political leader becomes more relevant. In 1996 Thabo Mbeki, then South Africa’s deputy president, condemned the rainbow nation project in his historic “Two Nations” speech in parliament. Mbeki argued:

... South Africa is a country of two nations. One of these nations is white, relatively prosperous, regardless of gender or geographic dispersal... The second and larger nation of South Africa is black and poor... lives under conditions of a grossly underdeveloped economic, physical, educational, communication and other infrastructure... This reality of two nations [is] underwritten by the perpetuation of the racial, gender and spatial disparities born of a very long period of colonial and apartheid white minority domination... And neither are we becoming one nation...the objective of national reconciliation is not being realized.


There has been strides made to address the problems Mbeki raises above but it seems these have not been enough considering the contradictory place South Africa has become: a country celebrated for its progressive constitution and a country considered most unequal in the world. For his part, Mbeki was allegedly instrumental in the formation of the Native club, a ‘think tank to explore and promote African identity’ funded by the state department of arts and culture (Carroll 2006). Of course, the project was criticized as inimical to the ethos of the rainbow nation (Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2011). Coupled with the current social media conflicts ignited by a few white racists online, the fallacies of the rainbow nation are exposed and the arguments that apartheid continues is magnified and solidified.

In this chapter I pay focus to race-talk in South African social media. Race- talk, according to Mpofu (2018), ‘is that form of racist discourse (by Whites) that occurs in ordinary conversations reinforcing and legitimating, in a way, the apartheid in the case of South Africa or elsewhere, the colonial era racial stereotypes’ (see also Myers and Williamson 2001). My main interest is discussing social media race-talk as generated by white South Africans. Penny Sparrow remains the prime exemplar of a race talker in South Africa through her infamous Facebook post protesting the presence of black people at beaches. She called them monkeys. Hellen Zille also sent out a tweet in 2018 suggesting that Africa could not be where it is had it not been for colonialism. In essence, she defined Africans as intellectually and humanely inferior to whites. She has many sympathizers even in the academy. For instance, in an equally shocking way Gilley concludes

A preposterous idea? Perhaps. But not so preposterous as the anti-colonial ideology that for the past 100 years has been haunting the lives of hundreds of millions of people in the Third World. A hundred years of disaster is enough. It is time to make the case for colonialism again.

(2017, 11)

In the article, he suggests black on their own have failed and therefore can only prosper under the leadership of whites. These racist postings on social media by white South Africans especially dovetail into Zille and Gilley’s thinking that colonialism was good for Africa and could rescue the continent given a chance once again. In this chapter, I am not discussing ‘racism’ (because blacks cannot be racist) of blacks towards whites. Racism, according to Mpofu (2018),

is not only an act of hate but also that of power, making racist talk a protection of that power and privilege... race is a socially constructed and an unscientific, amorphous and fluid system of categorizing people based on visual differences such as skin colour. It gains significance and relevance in society according to the value we attribute and assign to it.

According to Rothenberg (2013, 120)

Racism involves the subordination of people of color by white people. While individual persons of color may well discriminate against a white person.. .this does not qualify as racism... because that person of color cannot depend upon all the institutions of society to enforce or extend his or her personal dislike. Nor can he or she call upon the force of history to reflect and enforce that prejudice. .. History provides us with a long record ofw'hite people holding and using power and privilege over people of color to subordinate them, not the reverse.

Thus, in South Africa where race as a social construct remains an organizing factor in society, racism remains central in shaping most aspect of our existence and one of the main stumbling blocks to the cohesive rainbow nation that Mandela advocated for. Race, in the currently South Africa, influences w'here and to a certain extent how' someone is born, where they will reside, which educational institutions they are going to attend, who they will marry and even which company they would w'ork for. However, since the dawn of democracy there have been some strides towards achieving racial equality.

In this chapter, I use social media posts by Hellen Zille, Penny Sparrow,Justin Van Vuuren and Chanelle Sheasby. Penny Sparrow, a realtor who died of colon cancer in July 2019, was convicted of racism and fined R150,000 (US$15,000) for crimen injuria by the Equality Court. This was a ground-breaking case that criminalized racism. Since then, another famous case of racism involving a remorseless Vicky Momberg who called policeman who had come to assist her after a smash and grab incident on the road ‘kaffir’ 48 times in 2016 (CapeTalk 2019) w'as jailed for two years but appealed the sentences and was then granted R2,000 fine pending the finalization of her appeal. In her court appearance for the appeal, she argued that she

was traumatised [on the night of the incident]. I was in a state of hypertension, there was just no control over the situation... So much has been said about me being untruthful, which in itself is an impairment to my dignity. I was angry inside, I was upset, I was in a total state of hysteria [and] through that the whole episode played itself out.

(Chabalala 2019, online)

248 Shepherd Mpofu

Later on in a television show she argued that she was not guilty of any racism but:

of lashing out because of the trauma ... It was a temporary state, it was something I suffered for not realising even that it had affected anybody.... It’s not a word that I would use, it’s not something that’s part of the social circle I belong to, I don’t have a history of using the k-word... Black people have called black people the к-word. [Andfinally, as all racists usually say to claim their innocence and non-racism she said ‘I have black friends’).

Anon (2015) (italics my comment)

Even though her racist actions were not posted by her online, this case will later magnify how racists tend to attempt to justify their racism and even lay blame elsewhere, but themselves. Below are the figures that make the corpus that forms the pith of this study (Tables 18.1-18.3).

Table 18.1 Penny Sparrow and Justin Van Vuuren racist posts protesting the presence of black people in South African beaches

Penny Sparrow on Facebook

Justin Van Vuuren on Facebook

These monkeys that are allowed to be released on New years Eve And new years day on to public beaches towns etc. obviously have no education what so ever so to allow them loose is inviting huge dirt and troubles and discomfort to others. I’m sorry to say I was amongst the revelers and all I saw were black on black skins what a shame.

I do know some wonderful thoughtful black people. This lot of monkeys just don’t want to even try. But think they can voice opinions about statute and get their way dear, from now I. Shall address the blacks of south Africa as monkeys as I see cute little wild monkeys do the same pick drop litter ©

I don’t care whet pple say but I am so so so disgusted by by the state of the Durban beachfront these people come from their homes or wherever they live to literally throw all a heir shit all over the floor! Our promenade smells like piss and shit and I hate it! The municipality need to stop this! These ppl are destroying the beach! Go back to where you came from and take your 13 kids with you! Also teach them to look left and right before crossing the promenade! They seem to have no depth perception either! I recommend we make our promenade private! It shouldn’t be enjoyed by the scum of the nation! I’m in total disgust

Table 18.2 Colonial tweets by Hellen Zille, the former DA leader and Premier of

Western Cape. Zille was later disciplined by her party for the racist tweets

Helen £ille @helenzille

For those claiming the legacy of colonialism was ONLY negative, think of our independent judiciary, transport infrastructure, piped water etc.

Helen Zille @helenzille: Would we have had a transition into specialized health care medication without colonial influence? Just be honest please.

Helen Zille @helenzille: Getting onto an aeroplane now and won’t get onto the wi-fi so that I can cut off those who think EVERY aspect of colonial legacy was bad.

Table 18.3 Penny Sparrow and Chanelle Sheasby racist posts complaining about service delivery and undermining the capacity of blacks to run the country

Penny Sparrow via TouMagazine

(i) Chanelle Sheasby on Facebook

Don’t say much for South African justice system, come to S. A and get off your murder charges, South Africa is a really ruined country, a destroyrd postal system, Eskom playing a seriously dangerous game, home electricity full of irregular readings, we rent and when I moved into this house there was an outstanding bill of R.157,000.00 how was this possible for a small domestic home how come it was left to run for 2 yrs no cut offs, it’s all a scam, the dam walls are not being maintained so that will be the next calamity all our drinking water will be washed out to the sea, what a sad state of affairs, The ANC have failed the people and their own, none of these problems when the country was Looked AFTER BY WHITE EDUCATED PEOPLE, Remember how rich Zimbabwe?Rhodesia was when ruled by IanSMith a grand grand country, Now my step daughter said were actually all living on THE PLANET OF THE APES (same mentality) (December 8, 2014)

This is what we get for letting the local wildlife (MONKEYS) run the country.. .we never had any of the problems we do now...not with electricity, not with water nothing was like this, run down in to the ground because they lack the ability to preservev and maintain anything including life... not to mention that the population as a whole regardless of race BREEE) like FLIES knowing that they cant afford it.. ..why doom your children...

When is the rainbow nation?

South Africa has gone through a series of what Ndlovu-Gatsheni calls ‘fake nationhood’ (2011, 279). The ‘rainbowness’ of South Africa, as imagined by Mandela, usually comes to the fore on special and key moments of the nation and these have been the release of Mandela from prison and his subsequent election as the country’s first democratic president, during the Africa Cup of Nations soccer tournament of 1996, the Rugby World Cup in 1995, the Cricket World Cup in 2003, the 2010 Soccer World Cup and the death of Mandela in 2013. The hosting of sporting events has put South Africa on the world map, making the country a respectable global leader and player in as far as commerce, sport and social relations are concerned. It comes with political clout too as South Africa, the last ‘decolonizer’ in the subcontinent, has a well-regarded constitution and has played a major role in resolving regional and international political conflicts. During these periods, one sees South Africans of different races, sexuality and ethnicity happy and united rallying behind their nation, flag and particular sport code. One would be tempted to argue that Mandela ushered in the rainbow nation project when he was released from prison and ushered it out when he died. This is not to argue that when he was alive there were not racist incidences in South Africa. There were a lot of them but there has been a narrative that Mandela was the glue that held South Africa together. This is aptly captured by journalist David Blair of the Daily Telegraph who blogged:

For as long as he lives, South Africans breathe a little easier and believe in their country a little more. When the day after Mandela dawns, that belief will be shaken, not dramatically or immediately, but slowly and perhaps imperceptibly. South Africa will, quite simply, be a different country.

(in Ramlakan 2017, 138)

There have been a number of threats to the rainbow nation project ranging from xenophobic attacks, farm murders, the mythic white genocide, the land reform debates, the killing of Afrikaner supremacist who founded the organization Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB), Eugene Terr’Blanche, ‘which threatened to provoke the unrepentant Afrikaners into committing racial violence’ (Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2011, 281), the public raising of the old apartheid flag as hate speech and race-talk on social media. Julius Malema, a former ANC Youth League leader, whose song ‘Shoot the Boer’ was outlawed and considered a threat to the rainbow nation project now leads the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the third largest political party in parliament, and also proponents of land reform without compensation. As Ndlovu-Gatsheni (2011, 2081) observes, these events, even though uncoordinated and therefore unrelated, ‘provoke some common nervous reaction’ across a society that ‘has not yet fully recovered from the racial hatred created by apartheid’.

On methodology

Material that composes this research was gathered from the online platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. The methodological approach used to collect this data was digital/virtual/online ethnography. Online ethnography embraces ‘ethnography as a textual practice and as a lived craft and destabilises the ethnographic reliance on sustained presence in a found field site’ (2000, 34). She further adds that ‘Rather than being seen as more or less accurate portrayals of reality texts should be seen as ethnographic material which tells us about the understanding which authors have of the reality which they inhabit’ (Hine 2000, 51).

Digital ethnography comes with ethical considerations researchers are expected to negotiate these of various magnitude in their quest to represent the world or a phenomenon that they are interested in. Mare (2018) suggests that social media data traceability could cause the interlocutors or creators of posts to be harmed by security agents for instance. He suggests using the interlocutors’ gender or age to protect and prevent data from being traceable back to them. Data used in this research does not need such protection of interlocutors as either some, in the case of Penny Sparrow, have died, and others deliberately formulated harmful racist messages and they are popular people and their posts were all over the media to an extent that even blockading their names is futile. That some have been evidence in a court of law and intra-political party disciplinary hearings renders them usable in academic works like this one. Digital ethnography is a new phenomenon in Africa and research ethics committees in most academic institutions are manned by old scholars who are clueless and ‘have no capacity or cannot be relied upon to impart direction’ on ethical issues in the field (see also Henderson et. al. 2016). Henderson et. al. further observe that ‘The key issues around Internet research ethics... are whether we should treat the online text as data from human subjects with responding ethical concerns of consenting privacy, or should we treat the text as open for public consumption?’ (2013, 547).

The material used in this research was shared on social media, and the accounts of the people who posted racist material are public-facing, that is, they do not have privacy restrictions that limit content shared to someone’s narrow circle of friends. Twitter and Facebook advises the platform users to secure their accounts with restrictions if they do not want third parties accessing their content. Some choose not to secure their accounts so as to reach as many people as possible. In this research, I use this material on this basis. In addition, it is fair usage as it is not for commercial or any other purposes. The material is also of importance to academics and society because it infringes Facebook and Twitter user policy which encourages responsible use of the platforms and spreading racist sentiments is against these policies.

There have been many racist posts by white people in South Africa. The texts used in this research were deliberately selected via purposive sampling. Purposive sampling is convenient and allows for the selection of relevant material for analysis. It also draws from the researcher’s knowledge of the data due to a prior engagement with the data. The data were analysed through qualitative content analysis. Cole (1988) defines content analysis as a method for analysing textual, that is, written and visual and audio forms of communication. When it emerged, it was used as a method of analysing hymns, magazines, political speeches, and advertisements (Harwood and Garry 2003).

This chapter seeks to answer the following questions: What possible readings could we make from race-talk in South African social media? How does race-talk help magnify the problematics of the rainbow nation project? Finally, what do the apologies from race-talkers mean in the context of apartheid?

Critical race theory and citizenship

This chapter uses Critical Race Theory (CRT) as a tool to read racist-talk in South African social media debates. CRT has its origins in the mid-1970s ‘as a response to the failure of Critical Legal Studies (CLS) to adequately address the effects of race and racism in U.S. jurisprudence’ (DeCuir and Dixson 2004, 26). Citizenship, therefore, becomes central especially if discussions about race, belonging and equality are in post-colonial and post-Apartheid settings such as South Africa. Citizenship is not only centred on being a label of identity and belonging only but also speaks to issues of power, responsibility and duty accorded to people within a polity. Williams argues that people’s notions of citizenship are shaped by their different experiences as ‘one’s sense of empowerment defines one’s relation to law, in terms of trust and distrust, formality and informality, or right and no rights (or ‘needs’)’ (1995-1988). What informs race-talk are partly failures of the rainbow nation project and the continuation of apartheid punctuated with some repeated aspects of euphoria and despair that fizzle out and is always guaranteed the morning after, respectively. Of course, citizenship is contested, fluid at times with its boundaries unsettled and often reflects and reacts to the types of governing systems found in particular settings (Faulks 2000). According to Ladson-Billings,

It is because of the meaning and value imputed to whiteness that CRT becomes an important intellectual and social tool for deconstruction, reconstruction, and construction: deconstruction of oppressive structures and discourses, reconstruction of human agency, and construction of equitable and socially just relations of power.

(1998, 9)

Thus, the CRT movement composes of scholars and activists

studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism and power. The movement considers many of the same issues that conventional civil rights and ethnic studies discourses take up but places them in a broader perspective that includes economics, history, setting, group and self-interest, and emotions and the unconscious...critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reason, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.

(Delgado and Stefancic 2017, 3)

Before the demise of Apartheid, whites did not concede equal citizenship with the majority blacks. The post-Apartheid dispensation did not totally eradicate this as ‘social and political spheres in the country are still marked by exclusion and marginalization which, in effect, construct two tiers of citizenship and agency’ (Milton et. al. 2013, 407). Beyond that many remain socio-economically marginalized, voiceless, poor, stripped of dignity and self-worth brought about the continuation of apartheid. This explains why riotous protests due to poor service delivery happen in mostly poor black areas. Protests are a form of reclaiming dignity, humanity, rights, voice and ultimately equal citizenship.

Discussion: reading race-talk

Broadly speaking, racist social media posts characterize South Africans as persona non-grata and as people who do not belong to the country. In Table 18. 4, social media posts by Penny Sparrow and Justin Van Vuuren use the following words to describe blacks, their actions and the country).

Table 18.4 Words used to describe black people and their actions and the country by Penny Sparrow and Justin Van Vuuren in their social media race-talk

Penny Sparrow

Justin Van Vuuren



ii No-education

iii These people

iv Huge-dirt


v Troubles and discomfort

vi There’s no control



vii This lot of monkeys

viii Piss and shit


ix Go back where you come from and your 13 kids...


x No depth of perception, scum of the nation

Table 18.5 Words used to describe state of affairs in the post-colonial South Africa and Zimbabwe by Penny Sparrow and Chanelle Sheasby

Penny Sparrow

Chanelle Sheasby

Ruined country

Local wildlife



We are actually liv'ing on the planet of the apes (same mentality)

Ruined into the ground breed like monkeys

Lack ability to preserve and maintain

The two interlocutors’ perceptions run in the same vein with those of Chanelle Sheasby in Table 18. 5. Penny Sparrow shows some consistency in undermining the blacks to an extent that her apologies are rendered meaningless. The following Table 18. 5 casts light on this.

When we consider the words used by Helen Zille above justifying colonialism, one gets a sense of completeness about racism in South Africa, how it seeks to maintain certain narratives some of which formed the basis of colonialism, racism, Apartheid and still influence citizenship and race-relations.

University of South Africa (UNISA) ‘academic’ Anne-Marie Kriek also advances the same empty land thinking in the Science Monitor when she says:

... the whites did not take the country from the blacks. When the Dutch settled in the Cape in 1652, they found barren, largely unpopulated land. Together with French and German settlers, they built a dynamic society... Contrary to the myth, the blacks were never run off their land. They settled in tribal lands of their choice. When the whites met the blacks, blacks had no written language, no technological knowledge, no cure for infectious diseases...

Such views come from the architect of the evil Apartheid system Hendrik Ver- woed who argues that ‘more than 300 years ago two population groups, equally foreign to South Africa, converged in rather small numbers on what was practically empty country’ (in Qiinta 2016, 32). Verwoed justified Apartheid system as separate development by saying that whites ‘neither colonized another man’s country or robbed him by invasion and oppression’ (in Qiinta 2016, 32). There seems to have been so much investment by the Apartheid system in altering history, believing illogical theories and ignoring, for instance, historical facts such as diary entries by van Riebeeck where he writes about the Hottentots confronting them about taking their land, dispelling the empty land thesis in the process.

Such statements embolden the likes of Zille and Gilley to conclude that colonialism was best for Africa because, in their narrow view, there is no way Africa could have developed outside the realms of colonialism. This then makes it easier to see blacks as animals, incapable of any rational thinking and acting, sexually- depraved and as ‘scum of the nation’. What one deduces from these broader debates especially advanced by the Apartheid system, supportive white academics and ‘historians’, politicians such as Mulder and Zille and general members of the white and specifically Afrikaner community, is that there has been so much investment in spreading the gospel ofinequality in some white communities. The end result is the undermining of the gains made in 1994 and driving a wedge between South Africans. Of course, South Africa is not on the brink of a civil war but race-talk undermines the rainbow nation project as conceptualized by the founding fathers in the Freedom Charter and also in 1994. But again the 1994 rainbow nation metaphor was nothing but just that, a metaphor that captured the euphoria of the moment with a potential of fizzling out. It did not guarantee full humanity, citizenship, equality, dignity, rights and security for all. And by the way the closer one gets to a rainbow it disappears.

There is another dimension that is interesting for scholars of race and racism on social media debates especially in South Africa. When whites write their posts, they seem in charge of their faculties and they deliver a very clear message: blacks are like animals, incompetent, dirty, sexually depraved and therefore lesser humans. When caught and arrested, they do not take the blame fully but they attribute their racist attitudes and sentiments to outside influences. For instance, the case of Momberg is instructive. She claims racism is not a crime. She is not guilty of racism (which by the way a competent court of law found him guilty of) and therefore she is guilty of lashing out. In addition, she claims the stress she suffered induced her to use the к-word on an officer of the law and that she has black friends. The apologies in the figure below are from racist posts some of which are discussed in this chapter. This magnifies the argument that white racists seem to be not really sorry for their racism much as for being caught and at the same time insist that they are not entirely responsible for their actions (Tables 18.6a and 18.6b).

These apologies, as already argued above, lay blame elsewhere especially at the reader for failing to understand and therefore misinterpreting the posts. For instance, Helen Zille’s apology suggests that the tweet ‘may have come across as a

Of beaches, monkeys and good old days 255

Table 18.6a Some apologies and retractions for racist social media posts

Gareth Cliff on Twitter @GarethCliff

Justin Van Vuuren on Facebooh

xi I’ve been an insensitive asshole many times. This whole saga with the idiotic comments of Penny Sparrow has upset me, but I must acknowledge the pain and anger of so many on Twitter who thought I would in any way condone the things she said. If you thought I was on the side of the racist.

I assumed we were all already in agreement about how you can’t stand up FOR racism. If I didn’t make that clear, I apologise-sincerely. With regard to free speech and hate speech,

I need to continue my education.

I want to apologise to anyone I offended with my status today!

I had had no intention of hurting anyone so please accept my apology from the bottom of my heart

Chanelle Sheasby on Facebooh

Chris Hart on Twitter @ chrishartZA

I would like to issue this humble apology to all whom I have offended, by making racist comments that was uncalled for, all I can say is im deeply sorry for the trouble I have caused ... Sorry to everyone for being a bitch... if there is anything else I can do please let me know.

More than 25 years after Apartheid ended, the victims are increasing along with a sense of entitlement and hatred towards minorities...

This tweet caused offense-never intended for which I apologise whole heartedly. Meant to be read in context of slow growth.

Table 18.6b Apologies for racist tweets

xii Helen Jille @helenzille

I apologise unreservedly for a tweet that may have come across as a defence of colonialism. It was not.

defence of colonialism’ (emphasis mine). The tweet is a defence and valorization of colonialism. She suggests that had it not been for colonialism Africa would have not known an impartial judiciary (therefore the village courts that existed before colonialism were barbaric), Africans would have not known proper infrastructure and medicines (as if Africans lived on trees and were incapable of using plant-based medicines some of which have been stolen by big pharmaceutical companies and patented). Hart, in his apology, blames those offended for reading the tweet out of context and van Vuuren apologizes to ‘anyone’ and he surely knows that there are a lot of people who share his sentiments. There seems to be a deliberate naturalization of symbolic and cultural violence against blacks and an internalization and propagation of white superiority and black inferiority. Blacks are ‘othered’ and rendered invisible, unthinking and easily disposed of. This works as a justification and legitimation of existing forms of physical and psychological violence. The suggestion by Hart, Zille and others is that blacks should stop playing victim not aware that his attitude and justification normalizes white privilege and the rendering of blacks as invisible. Social media race-talk is part of apartheid and associated conflicts and the conflict of and among races, it seems, continues to undermine the post-Apartheid society and the fact that people can share ideas and express themselves on social media, in an unmediated fashion, makes it possible for them to speak in ways and about things that rail against political correctness, from the heart and share their truest feelings even though they are not aligned to officialdom and the spirit of the rainbow nation.


Soon after Mandela’s release and the dawn of democracy, Desmond Tutu was ecstatic and wrote:

What an incredible week it has been for us South Africans. We all voted on 27 and 28 April in the first truly democratic election in this beautiful country. We are still on Cloud Nine and have not yet terra firma. Our feelings are difficult to put into words. I said it was like falling in love, the people are really beautiful. They are smiling, they are walking taller than before 27 April. They have suddenly discovered that they are all South Africans. And they are proud of that fact. They are no longer pariahs...white, black, coloured, Indian-and they discovered they were compatriots...we have seen a miracle unfolding before our very eyes...

This was the bewitching effect of the fall of Apartheid. Social media conflict has dismantled all the pretenses of national unity and has brought, to a certain extent, bar or braai talk that some racists have in private into the public domain via social media spaces. Thus, this has allowed South Africa to face and interrogate difficult dialogues. Difficult dialogue is ‘verbal or written exchange of ideas or opinions between citizens within a community that centers on an awakening of potentially conflicting views of beliefs or values about social justice issues (such as racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism/homophobia)’ (Watt 2007, 116). Race-talk also offers opportunities for the realignment of certain policies, debates and rethinking the rainbow nation project if it is something to succeed. Ultimately there is need for race relations to improve through legal, socio-economic and political interventions; otherwise, the whole project is doomed. South Africa cannot rely on mega-events for the resurrection of the rainbow nation.

Further, social media racial conflicts and racist-talk have far reaching implications to the country as a whole both at citizenship and legislative or policy levels. For a long time, cases of racism were not criminalized and the jailing of such people as Momberg, legal trials of Sparrow and Adam Catzavelos, suggests that racism is being taken seriously and might curb racist social media posts. In addition, this helps humanize black people some of whom could have possibly internalized the inferiority complexes sold to them by racists. Thus, racism decentres people and places them at the periphery of humanity and ultimately sponsors certain forms of existence and assertion of citizenship and contestation of space such as physical crime for which many blacks are imprisoned for anyway. The arrests of racists ‘humanifies’, gives a voice, includes and economically empowers the majority of the humiliated, silenced, economically marginalized and disempowered majority. Also, as suggested already, race conflicts on social media suggest that the shadow of Apartheid still lingers and the current system of apartheid needs address too. At another level, racists cannot believe and concede equality and shared humanity with the blacks and they are struggling to unlearn racism and segregation in lieu of co-existence, equality and anti-racism. One can remain hopeful but the amount of racial hatred on social media suggests that South Africa continues fighting demons or racism and there is need for stringent laws and policies to curb racism.


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