IF ANYBODY deserves to talk about his own oppression, it is Malegapura Makgoba, however the question remains to what degree individuals have constitutionally protected freedom to express their views about race in this country. It is one thing to entertain an informed debate about the “crime against humanity” known as apartheid, it is another thing entirely to suggest a new dimension to race theory, and to effect an hypothesis that instead of deracialising society, simply exacerbates the problem.
In America where there are few limitations on free speech, it is not uncommon to find oddball theories that serve to weaken progress towards a just and equitable society. In fact, the freedom to speak ones own mind is so great there, that even members of the “Nazi Youth League” are defended by intellectuals who believe that such freedoms are the cornerstone of democracy.
Not so in Germany where Nazism is banned. In South Africa, where race is still a divisive issue, we have qualifications against the use of so-called “hate speech”, propoganda and incitement to war and violence. In fact article 16. 2 (c) rules out advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm. The real question surely on every readers lips then — are Makgoba’s racial theories, really an incitement or advocacy to cause harm, however misconstrued this might seem to anybody wishing to act as a self-styled arbiter of racist discourse?
At the face of it, the kind of rhetoric that Makgoba uses appears to be tame, not entirely hateful by the standards of demogogery and less purposefully harmful than many would suppose, but nevertheless, the damage has been done, and as the editor admits, this single topic is probably the most controversial in its ability to stir emotion. Makgoba as a chancellor of a university should know better — the minute one starts advocating a theory of race, ethnicity or gender, one falls into a relativistic minefield, which is pretty well established in the ethics of discourse: There should be no middle ground between being an activist of equality and advocating racial superiority; no possiblity of being a humanist or a feminist and engaging in chauvenistic activity.
In spite of appearances, Makgoba has on numerous occasions argued against non-racialism as an idea, and his Baboon theories tend to suppose that the big stick waiting for racists, of all persuasions, is not within the constitution, but rather ensconced and cloistered within his own mind. If it turns out that his stated goal is to cause injury and to do harm, (ethnic and linguistic groups notwitstanding) then the real dilemma is that if we do not tackle Makgoba’s views with all the resources at our disposal, then these constitutional qualifications will be undone and the bill of rights will be viewed merely as a paper tiger.
What is more, there could be other more extreme racists like Makgoba hiding under a bushel of racist baboon ideology, creating a new discourse that forgives racialism and racialisation simply because the perpetrators are no longer all white. Is it still the hard and terribly truth, that officially, there were no black racists to speak of, no collaborators with the apartheid regime? Let us deal with this stigma, not by laughing it away or sweeping it under a nearby tree, but by analysing what Makgoba has to say, and if it turns out that he is an advocate of hatred against humanity then by all means, let us exile the man and his baboon to some vestry.