During the past few days, a number of articles have been published regarding two students at the University of Pretoria who dressed up as domestic workers with their faces painted in black shoe polish, and posted a picture of themselves on Facebook.
The incident has sparked outrage among many South Africans, but the articles expressing outrage have elicited a very different response – many of the comments (largely by white South Africans) fall into the following two categories:
- They attempt to defend the girls’ behaviour as being innocent fun or at worst, slightly inappropriate, but not a big deal; and/or
- They launch a scathing attack on black South Africans at large for being racist themselves / ignorant/ overly sensitive.
This article is not about how deplorable and offensive the girls’ behaviour was – many well-written articles have been published which get that point across more effectively than I could ever do. Instead, this article is about South Africans in general, as revealed in the comments below such articles.
The first thing that comes across overwhelmingly through the comments, is how divided South African society remains. If the comments are at all representative of a cross-section of South Africa’s population (or at least, its middle class population who are literate and have internet access), South Africans are truly a disappointing people.
The comments expressing bigoted, insensitive and racist views are in the vast majority, and have the most “likes” by other users, while any comments disagreeing with such views are few and far between, have the most “dislikes”, and are responded to with more bigoted, insensitive and racist comments
What does all of this tell us about South Africans as a people? The comments reflect the extent of the denialism that exists regarding the legacy of the system of social engineering which has left behind a broken country (which, if anything, seems to be more broken and segregated today than it was 20 years ago, despite the abolition of formalised legal segregation).
If the comments are anything to go by, News24 is clearly the fore-runner when it comes to the having the greatest number of bigoted readers and trolls, but no major news sites which allow reader comments are exempt.
Even the Daily Maverick, which is generally considered to have as its readership the educated liberal yuppie, has a great number of insensitive and often hurtful comments below articles involving race issues.
What commenters seem to forget (or perhaps not care about) is that comments on the internet are in the public domain, and can be read by anybody worldwide. The fact that a website address ends with .co.za does not mean that your comment is shielded from the eyes of the world at large.
I want to be able to be proud to be a South African – I do not want to be ashamed (as I am today) to be associated with a nation of ignorant and hateful people who spread their toxic venom and launch racist public attacks on their fellow countrymen (and human beings) without restraint.