Spraakvryheid en ‘rassisme’, oor David Bullard

MEDIAVERKLARING DEUR DIE PRETORIA-PEN OP 14 APRIL 2006

(English translation underneath)

SPRAAKVRYHEID EN ‘RASSISME’

Ons, lede van die Pretoria-PEN, ’n vereniging van skrywers, joernaliste en uitgewers, wat insgelyks by die Internasionale PEN geaffilieer is, verwerp die afdanking van die gewilde Sunday Times-rubriekskrywer, David Bullard. Bullard is as rubriekskrywer ontslaan omdat hy ’n speelse, satiriese stuk oor ’n fiktiewe Suid-Afrikaanse verlede sonder Westerse invloed geskryf het. Dit is as “rassisties” beskou. Sederdien is hy onderwerp aan buitensporige openbare kritiek sowel as dreigemente om van haatspraak by die Suid-Afrikaanse Menseregtekommissie aangekla te word.

Ongegronde beskuldigings van rassisme en haatspraak onderlê die nuwe aanslag op spraakvryheid in die huidige tydvak. Die toenemende aantal en intensiteit van sulke beskuldigings verteenwoordig ’n teken dat Suid-Afrika in ’n klimaat van Middeleeuse heksejagte teen skrywers en joernaliste verval wat verseg om by die stomme polities korrekte gemeenplase van ons meesters te hou. Daar word van hulle verlang om die vele probleme van ons samelewing, soos wetteloosheid, ekstreme geweld, korrupsie en vervallende infrastruktuur met slaggate in ons paaie en gereelde kragonderbrekings te ignorer of te sensureer.

Ons staatspresident het so pas verklaar dat “daar geen krisis in Zimbabwe heers nie”. Dit is bloot nog ’n manifestasie van die toenemend Orwelliaanse scenario on Suid-Afrika wat ons dwing om deel te neem aan die opmaak van ’n kammawerklikheid. Enige vorm van werklike kritiek of eerlikheid word as “rassisme” gestigmatiseer. Soos Alain Finkielkraut met skerp waarneming in 2005 opgemerk het, het die “hoë ideaal van die ‘oorlog teen rassisme’ geleidelik in ’n afskuwelik valse ideologie verander. En hierdie anti-rassisme sal vir die 21ste eeu wee swat kommunisme vir die 20ste was: ’n bron van geweld”.

Die Nobelpryswenner J.M. Coetzee is ook van rassisme beskuldig weens sy roman Disgrace waarin hy die wetteloosheid en verval in gesondheids- en ander stelsels beskryf wat Suid-Afrika tans kenmerk. In ons land veral, het die beskuldiging van rassisme semanties leeg geraak weens die holle herhaling daarvan. Dit behou egter die potensiaal om presies die teenoorgestelde uitwerking te hê deur etniese en rasseverskille te beklemtoon, asook om almal te intimideer wat by die produksie en verspreiding van die geskrewe woord betrokke is.

Die oordrewe woede en verontwaardiging waaraan David Bullard en ander skrywers blootgestel is omdat hulle hetsy satiriese, hetsy waaragtige beskrywings van ons sosiale agteruitgang gepubliseer het, verteenwoordig ’n kommerwekkende verval in onverdraagsaamheid, wat gevaarlik sou wees om te ignoreer.

Ons doen ’n beroep op die Sunday Times om Bullard óf weer aan te stel óf aan hom ’n substantiewe wetlike rede vir sy afdanking te verskaf. Ongegronde beskuldigings van rassisme behoort nooit grond vir afdanking te wees nie.

Dr. Dan Roodt
President, Pretoria PEN

Kontak: Dan Roodt president@pretoriapen.co.za

ENGLISH:

MEDIA RELEASE BY PRETORIA PEN ON 14 APRIL 2008

FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND ‘RACISM’

We, members of the Pretoria PEN, a society of writers, journalists and publishers, as well as affiliated members of International PEN, condemn the dismissal of the popular Sunday Times columnist, David Bullard. Bullard was fired as a columnist for writing a whimsical, satirical piece about a fictitious South African past without Western influence. This was considered to be “racist”. He has now been subjected to violent public criticism as well as threats of being charged with hate speech by the South African Human Rights Commission.

Unfounded accusations of racism and hate speech go to the core of the new assault on freedom of expression in our time. The increasing number and intensity of such accusations are a sign that South Africa is sliding into a climate of mediaeval witch hunts against authors and journalists who refuse to abide by the mindless politically correct platitudes demanded by their masters. They are required to gloss over, or to censor, the many problems afflicting our society, such as lawlessness, extreme violence, corruption and a declining infrastructure with potholes in our roads and regular power failures.

Our state president has just declared that “there is no crisis in Zimbabwe”. This is just another manifestation of the increasingly Orwellian scenario in South Africa that forces us to participate in the construction of a false and sanitised reality. Any form of real criticism or honesty is stigmatised as “racism”. As Alain Finkielkraut perceptively observed in 2005, “the lofty idea of ‘the war on racism’ was gradually turning into a hideously false ideology. And this anti-racism will be for the 21st century what communism was for the 20th century: a source of violence.”

Nobel Prize winner J.M. Coetzee too, has been accused of racism for writing his novel Disgrace, in which he depicts the lawlessness and decline in health and other services characterising South Africa today. In our country, especially, the accusation of racism has become semantically empty by rote repetition. However, it retains the potential for achieving precisely the opposite effect by emphasizing ethnic and racial divisions, as well as intimidating everyone engaged in the production and dissemination of the written word.

The exaggerated rage and indignation meted out to David Bullard and other writers for publishing either satirical or truthful accounts of our social decline, represents a worrying slide into intolerance, which we shall ignore at our peril.

We call upon the Sunday Times, either to reinstate Bullard, or to give him a substantive legal reason for his dismissal. Spurious accusations of racism should never be grounds for dismissal.

Dr. Dan Roodt
President, Pretoria PEN

Contact: Dan Roodt president@pretoriapen.co.za