When somebody expresses unpopular, shockingly bigoted or other incendiary views on social media or elsewhere and the inevitable backlash follows, there are always people who caution that the resultant outcry threatens the freedom of expression of the wrongdoer. This happened after Helen Zille tweeted about her admiration for aspects of colonialism. The problem is that this argument is based on a rather crude and uninformed view of the nature of free speech in a democracy.
In moments of weakness, I wish for an easier life, a nicer disposition, and skin colour that carries less responsibility. All these are interlinked – an angry black person seems destined to live a difficult life, forever trying to affirm our rights and place in society. In the wake of the racist incident at a Spur restaurant and Helen Zille’s colonialism-praising tweets, it is apparent that society has the expectation that countering racism and white privilege remains black peoples’ burden. That Mmusi Maimane is facing the biggest test of his political career because of someone else’s doing is the best demonstration of this.
Just as the ANC cannot suddenly introduce meritocratic performance as an employment criterion anywhere that supporters have been rewarded with a job, the wine industry cannot suddenly abandon its accredited training systems and its community outreach projects, whether or not they are really producing palpable benefits.
This is a dangerous moment in the history of our democracy and not unlike the last heady days of the Republic. We might do well to heed the Ciceronian warning to “take the trouble” to preserve what we have despite its fading hue.