Did Avusa and Sunday World “raise controversy without thought for the consequences” with Roberts’ column?

The South African Human Rights Commission has confirmed a receipt of a complaint about a so-called ‘racist’ and ‘offensive’ Sunday World newspaper columnist, Kuli Roberts. This after Roberts wrote a column in the tabloid newspaper yesterday in which she described and insulted coloured people, a description which was seen by many as insulting, offensive and discriminatory.

Roberts’ controversial column comes after former Director-general of the Department of Labour and now government spokesperson Jimmy Manyi was quoted in a YouTube video insulting coloured people in 2009.

In the video Manyi was quoted as saying the “over-concentration of coloureds in the Western Cape is not working for them”. So, suggested Manyi, they “should spread in the rest of the country … so they must stop this over-concentration situation because they are in over-supply where they are so you must look into the country and see where you can meet the supply”. And the ruling ANC has since distanced itself from Manyi’s remarks and later accepted his apology “unreservedly”.

Although Roberts’ column might have been hurtful and offensive to many people – to me it was both offensive, and yes of course, somewhat funny. This, I suspect, has something to do with my encounter with a couple of coloured people especially for those of us who are from close to Kimberly, in the Northern Cape, where Afrikaans is a dominant language.

But of course – as we now know – it is was the funny part of the column that irked a hell lot of people, but that it was indeed parts thereof that people found quite offensive. These include the following where Roberts alleges that:

  • Coloured people “will never” leave dark foundation on your shirt after a hug
  • Coloured people “will never” run out of cigarettes
  • Coloured people “will always” be assured of a large family as many of these girls breed as if Allan Boesak sent them on a mission to increase the coloured race”;
  • Coloured people “don’t” have to fork out thousands on their hair as they mostly have silky hair that doesn’t need relaxers or weaves;
  • Coloured people “always” know where to get hair curlers and wear them with pride, even in shopping malls;
  • Coloured people “don’t” have to listen to those clicks most African languages have;
  • Coloured people “are the closest thing” to being a white woman and we know you black men love them as they look like they’ve popped out of an Usher music video;
  • Coloured people’s “bruises are more obvious than ours [other black/African people’s]”, so if you hit her it will be easier to see;
  • Coloured people “don’t” have to send their sons to initiation school, where they stand a chance of getting a horrendous infection and even dying.

Taking these allegations into account, many people have now called for the sacking of Roberts or that action be taken against her.

City Press newspaper editor Ferial Haffajee said in an Interview with News24 that for a moment she thought she had lost her sense of humour. “I looked hard for the tongue, the cheek and thought perhaps my humour had escaped through the gap in my front teeth or that the GHD I use to relax my nappy locks was impacting my brain. So I read again”, she said. She said she “couldn’t find satire or a piss-take… that coloureds should take themselves into the sea”. Instead, all she found was “shocking stereotype and vicious racism” about Roberts’ comments towards coloured people in the Western Cape Province. “If I’m wrong on her intent”, she said, “I would still be offended though this time less as an anti-racist and pro-womanist, but as a wordsmith”, said Haffajee.

HRC spokesperson Vincent Moaga told South African Press Association that the commission “received a formal complaint about the article this morning [28 February 201]” and the commission “we will look at it, assess it and see how to handle it”.

Meanwhile Sunday World editor Wally Mbhele said in s statement today that weekly column “would be discontinued with immediate effect”. The statement said Avusa Media, the parent company of the newspaper, acknowledged the “outcry over” Roberts’ column that appeared in the newspaper yesterday.

The Mbhele – who I wonder how the heck he let the column go past his fingers and through the editing process in the first place – admitted that “the column made derogatory generalisations about Coloured people which were in clear violation of the South African Press Code and Avusa Media’s internal codes”.

He further acknowledged that the “column was also not in keeping with Avusa’s commitment to building a non-racial and non-sexist society”, and that the “online version of the offending column has been removed”.

Though it was a bit later as the column had caused some pain to those who were hurt by it, but I must give it to him that as editor of the newspaper – God knows where he was when the newspaper went to print – that he accepted and took “full responsibility for the offending column” and that while he recognized the “the right of columnists to express their opinions without fear or favour, [but] these should not amount to prejudice”.

The column, said Mbhele in a statement, showed “clear prejudice against a section of South African society” and for this, he “unreservedly apologise to South African society and to Sunday World readers”. Ag, shame. Too late, dude. The damage’s done already.

Avusa Media Editor-in-chief Mondli Makhanya has also had his say in the matter, saying the company has “already begun an internal inquiry into the matter”. As a “leading media company and a responsible corporate citizen”, Makhanya said Avusa Media “will not allow any of its titles to disseminate prejudicial commentary that re-enforces divisions and entrenches racial stereotypes”. He claimed the company was still “totally committed to the values and principles enshrined in the Constitution”. Really?

This reminds me of just how Makhanya himself fired Bullard a couple of year ago for an article in the Sunday Times newspaper – at the time when he was its editor before being kicked to the top, to the position he now occupies – in which he allegedly insulted black people as backward. The out-cry over article also resulted in Bullard getting the boot. And as far as matters stand, Bullard is still challenging his dismissal as the newspaper’s columnist.

But on whether an apology or being sacked was the appropriate action to be taken against the columnist, Haffajee thought Roberts should first “be given the right to reply”. And I must say we would have seen a lot of writers and columnists being sent there and had that happened to Bullard at that time, I think he might be a changed man by now, if he is still as racist as many people thought of him.

And by sending writers and columnists “there” one is referring to Haffajee’s recommendation that Avusa should at least consider sending Roberts “on an anti-racism course (not the namby pamby diversity training stuff) and that the editor should apologise to offended readers”. And yes – as we have seen – the latter has happened and it is only the former that were are likely to know of as that would depend on the “internal inquiry into the matter” that Makhanya claimed would be taken. And still on that note, it is not clear whether this “inquiry” will be against Ms. Roberts herself or her editor, Mbhele. We will wait and see…

But before Roberts embarks on an “anti-racism course”, if she will agree to the suggestion thought to be good for an anti-coloured person like her – I think she should, as said Haffajee, first “have the courage of her convictions and debate me or us publicly or she should apologise rather than speaking through acolytes in the tabloid magazines where she is an uber-queen but one who is never called to account”.

Haffajee was responding to reports on Twitter, according to @heatSouthAfrica when it claimed it “just spoken to a source close to #Kuli Roberts who says ‘she’s shocked by the reaction and didn’t mean to hurt anybody’”.

As a layman, when columns like these go past editors and the editing process without being noticed, could it be that they found them funny or as Sentletse Diakanyo told me recently on told me on Twitter that “clearly [Mbhele] liked the article”? And with whom does the buck lie? And who takes the blame and, in worse case scenario, who should be fired? Further in the words of Dianne Bayley who had this to ask in The Medial Online article at the time when Bullard and Jon Qwelane were fired, with the latter refusing to apologise for this homophobic column which then appeared on the also tabloid Sunday Sun newspaper: “Who is ultimately responsible for what goes into a publication?”

Bayley said in “those days” sub-editors were there to ensure stories were factual and publications couldn’t get sued for their content. She also said “cost cutting may have put paid to the sub-editor’s position, deeming them an unnecessary expense when you have an editor”. But, she asked, if editors now allow content that incites hatred, shouldn’t he or she take responsibility? “What about the publishing company?” asked Bayley.

Well whichever way one looks at it, “the buck has to stop somewhere”, said Bayley.

Bayley said: “either these columns must be subbed, edited or withheld when they contain blatant hate-inciting speech, or the South African public must quietly ditch their subscriptions and not rant about issues”. This is one opinion Mail & Guardian Online editor Chris Roper shares. Roper said “with a bit of editing it would have been funny”. In that case, it would seem the editor still failed. That was supposed to be his job, right?

Bailey further said “clearly, some writers and broadcasters are out to raise controversy without thought for the consequences”.

In the end one has to ask this question:

Was “raising controversy” as did Bullard, Qwelane and Roberts “without thought for the consequences” exactly what Avusa and Sunday World newspaper did by agreeing to publish Roberts’ column?

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5 thoughts on “Did Avusa and Sunday World “raise controversy without thought for the consequences” with Roberts’ column?

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