In response to Eusebius McKaiser’s Open Letter to Ferial Haffajee



– So much for one dimensional analysis –
I read with interest today Dr. McKaiser’s meandering reprimand of Haffajee in the New Age, on her decision to let the spear down.

McKaiser in emotional blackmail tone makes a number of assumptions to support his view that the letting down of the spear on the part of Haffajee was wrong because it held no ramifications for what he terms the national interest.

He claims the letting down of the spear “is (narrowly) in the interest of Jacob Zuma, his family, his supporters, some in the African National Congress who feel insulted, and members of the public who feel the same”. It is not difficult to deduce from this myopic categorisation of McKaiser that he seeks to reduce those offended to an almost insignificant group that warrants no attention if not ignorance. He is overtaken and pre-occupied to argue that because there are some in the ANC who may hold a different view, that in itself justifies the existence of the painting and therefore a denial of the right to dignity advanced.

From where the classical attempt to define those offended in an almost arbitrarily empirical sense when that is not possible? There exists no empirical evidence to detail how many South Africans are for or against the painting in whatever form as it relates to the aspects of ‘freedom of expression’ or ‘right to dignity’, hence chartering that route proves a cul-de-sac. Hence the categorisation of those who are and remain offended is a senseless exercise if the intention was to show them as minority deserving of ignorance.

Secondly in his desire to confirm a divided ANC he hashed together things that do not belong together defying logic. He uses the national Minister of Arts  and Culture Paul Mashatile’s interview as the evidence of an opposing view  and not another view and what he terms a “more measured tone” as the correct approach to the subject. This by itself is again a cheap-shot informed by one dimensional analysis, Paul Mashatile is the Minister of Arts and Culture and not the ANC spokesman. The interview is conducted with him as minister and not as an ANC member he therefore responds in that capacity.  Also anyone who has ever seen or listened to Paul Mashatile before will attest he is naturally soft-spoken one who seldom shows emotion, how this is used to validate an opposing view only McKaiser knows. McKaiser concedes Mashatile himself found the portrait offensive. An aspect he (McKaiser) deliberately seeks not to engage.

To further lend credence to his desired conclusive view of a divided ANC he uses Pallo Jordan’s interview on Interface to bolster his one sided defence of artists’ right of expression. Needless to say he obliterated the very point he is seeking to make when he adds on Jordan “even while explaining that sensitivity is important on the part of artists”. Again McKaiser does not get this, because once you bring sensitivity into the equation one is asking for context, suggesting these rights do not exist as absolutes at expense of each other in space.

McKaiser clearly tackles the issue of the complaint on the part of those who were offended from a tunnel vision mind. For the record the issue of freedom of expression was never in contention, rejected, challenged or argued against, it was always and remains consistently acknowledged. It is simply sophistic to attempt to argue as if those offended were calling for the denial of freedom of expression.  It appears he suffers of selective amnesia, when it suits to corroborate his  analysis. The case brought before the court as led by Advocate Malindi in its prologue acknowledged and affirms such right, whilst it argues for a conjoined responsibility to prove sensitive for ones dignity a right also in constitutional embrace.
Any reasonable person can see that clearly from both Mashatile and Jordan unless one wears McKaiser shades. We may not be able to see the end of the case with the current developments, but following Justice Claasen on the first day of the hearing, it became clear the challenge was not the rights of dignity or the freedom of expression but a means as to how to practicalise a potential ruling to outlaw the painting when the same has become viral and it is assumed is all over.

He does to Jordan in typical liberalist mind what is being done of a Mandela by some who insist on separating him as saint from an evil ANC.  A practice Mandela is on record for condemning. Jordan is separated as a brilliant intellectual in an abyss of no intelligence currently in the ANC, the myth parading from the pens of our ‘analysts’. Some do have a need to prove their intellectual standing by showing an association with those who are celebrated by all.

McKaiser argues, “by climbing down on this issue – and following the sentiments of editors like Peter Bruce- you actually do all of us, including black South Africans, a huge disservice”. This again constitutes a gross assumption on the part of Mckaiser.  He clearly does not appreciate the collective role all has to play to prove cohesive in building and tearing down. Assumption because he believes the enforcing of the right of expression by artists stands sacrosanct to the right of dignity for those whom he cite a disservice is done by letting the spear down.

Haffajee has conceded in her editorial and apology to Zuma’s daughter that she has come to see the pain, perhaps when she herself was on the receiving end of such pain. McKaiser may still learn that we are rather dismissive of others informed by where we stand, the towers from where we project, the positions we hold and yet when we in pain, we want others to be sensitive to us.

To McKaiser we say the right of freedom of expression does not exist in a vacuum but lives and must find meaning in the collective spirit of ubuntu the backdrop of the constitution of South Africa with its chequered history. Interpreting it any other way is necessarily doing a disservice to the very right you seek to defend as sacrosanct.  Saths Cooper talks of this what I shall call unshackling we still need, because though we are politically free we are not psychologically free from the scars of yesterday, and to act as if we are is to disregard the road we have trudged, the sacrifices made and the price paid.

He accuses Blade Nzimande who spoke in his capacity as Secretary General of the SACP and Gwede Mantashe as Secretary General of the ANC  of bullying and angry responses. (His silence on Zwelinzima Vavi of COSATU another member if the Tripartite Alliance  also as Secretary General condemning the spear is deafening). Perhaps it pokes holes in his theory of those offended constituting only a section of ANC members who are fans of a Zuma.

It is not difficult to read the latent anger aimed at Zuma and the ANC in this open letter which one still is not sure what it is, for it goes from a patronising salutation of Haffajee, to disdain for Zuma, a dividing of the ANC into sections, confusing Mashatile’s views, cheap praise singing of Pallo Jordan to a cum-existential lecture on the need for art (as European science I suppose) to be taught to black kids, concluding with what blacks can handle. The latter perhaps the desperately needed re-civilization of the natives this time in art for they clearly lack the capacity to grasp art.

In conclusion, he says “bad art, like bad politicians are allowed to exist. That’s the point of a democracy” our learned friend omitted to mention another constituency, bad analysis and analysts, also allowed to exist as prove of this celebrated democracy.
Maybe our learned friend should have decided what he wanted to deal with because this conflated “open letter to Ferial Haffajee”, perhaps in my view suffered whiplash in a crash overtaken by a need to prove Zuma as deserving of whatever comes to him, the one psyche of an irrational mind.

Clyde N. Ramalaine
Social Commentator

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