So, who fed the wolf . . . ?

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

I HAVE said it before and I will say it again: I'm a kaffir and proud of it. The word comes from Arabic and is used by the Islamic world to refer to infidels and I am firmly in the ranks of non-believers. But I digress.

There's an oft-repeated fable about a Cherokee elder teaching his grandchildren about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to them. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves.

"One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, selfpity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

"The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.

"The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandchildren reflected on this and after a while, one of them asked, “Which wolf will win?”

The elder replied, “The one you feed.”

Until last weekend, I had not heard the name "Jessica Leandra dos Santos". I strongly suspect that in a few weeks time, the name will have vanished from my memory. Her sudden rise to prominence among those of us who do not really care about who happens to grace the covers of men's magazines is that she used the social network Twitter to expound the following pearl of wisdom:

@JessicaLeandra: Just, well took on an arrogant and disrespectful k_ _ _ _ _ inside Spar. Should have punched him, should have.

The storm that followed this utterance by the 19-year-old was tumultuous. As one online commentator Murray Walker put it:

"The Twitterati swarmed around her like a ravenous group of piranhas, gnashing their teeth and ripping into her bigoted flesh with a zealousness that was quite astonishing. And it was good. … The court of public opinion in South Africa has shown its power. Ruthless and swift. Leandra was dragged into the town square, flogged, pelted with rotten tomatoes and sent to the gallows where she now lies, a sniffling wreck, alone and bleeding."

FHM magazine declared that she would be stripped of her model of the year title (or some such) and that all pictures of her would be deleted from their website. A diet company called QuickTrim and The Little Eden Charity Home (never heard of either of them) announced that she would no longer be their spokeswoman. That's all well and good – she's probably not much use as a business endorsement other than to appeal to trailer park trash, and no one really wants them as a target market.

My problem is this: who fed her wolf ?

Here's my opinion for consideration: we are not going to eliminate racism for as long as we define ourselves by race. Prior to 1994, we were forced to think of ourselves in terms of race because we had this beast called the population registration act which categorised us into whites, Africans, coloureds, Indians. Every single one of us who had an ID number ending in 02 x, 03 x, 04 x, or 05 x has a historical claim to being on the receiving end of discrimination, and every one of us who had an ID number ending in 01 x benefited from being a white South African.

Enter the Mandela era, and we all swapped those digits for 08 x. We were no longer categorised by race. And we prospered. We built a genuine sense of nationhood sharing in triumphs as South Africans.

Then suddenly, in 2003, we did a U turn. We passed Act 53, the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act, which said that "whereas under apartheid race was used to control access to South Africa’s productive resources and access to skills; and whereas South Africa’s economy still excludes the vast majority of its people from ownership of productive assets and the possession of advanced skills" we were going to "establish a national policy on broadbased black economic empowerment so as to promote the economic unity of the nation, protect the common market, and promote equal opportunity and equal access to government services".

So we proceeded to build an entirely complex code of human interaction that says that some of us have more rights than others because of whom our ancestors happened to be because the others' ancestors had more rights than ours.

That code says that some of us, although more qualified and competent than others by standards of international best practice, should subsume our ambitions to those of others because of an accident of birth.

It's not dissimilar to the Christian concept of original sin that says because Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, all of humanity inherits their guilt.

But I'm a kaffir, and I don't believe in original sin.

If there are individuals under apartheid who stole from other South Africans, let us have a legal process to restore those rights as we did with land restitution claims.

But let not the sins of the fathers be visited upon the children. If we today, by law, continue to divide ourselves into "us" and "them", is it any wonder which wolf gets fed?