Adding Insult to Injury - A Response to Frans Cronje
I always have this question in my mind, particularly given the way things constantly unravel in South Africa: How long will liberals whip a horse of moralism that has proven time and time again that it cannot easily gallop according to its owners wish in a society that is riddled by settler-colonial, racist and patriarchal relations?
In defense of Habib in his piece "The Mob hounding Habib must be challenged" in the Business Day on 29, March, 2021, the CEO of the Institute of Race Relations Frans Cronje invokes the notion of a 'mob'. As such, he adds insult to injury. But does he care, anyway?
The notion of a mob is part of a very violent colonial racist tradition of rendering people, particularly black, invisible. Instead of seeing people who have been, and are still, at the receiving end of unequal power relations, racists and their sympathisers see a 'mere aggregate' of aggrieved bodies who desperately cry victim and believe to be entitled to everything. And so, it goes, 'black people have a victim mentality...the past is gone, we have a new democratic society'.
To invisibilize someone is to get rid of them; it is to absent them in their presence; it is to 'unsee' them as human (enough).it is to dissolve them into anonymity, like potatoes in a sack, upon which the racist, patriarchal, misogynistic, homophobic and transphobic powers-that-be would act on them as they wish.
Therefore, for that which is "thingified", as Aime Césaire would say, to stake claims and rights, to speak even if it is to say, "you are hurting me", is totally uncalled for. It irritates those who believe they have the right to treat them anyhow. What angers people like Cronje therefore, is that the "subjects", the "slaves" are exercising their agency and courageously stake their claims to being human.
As far I’m concerned everyone who has expressed disgust over Habib's comments has a name (and surname). If it was possible for Cronje to mention Jonathan Jansen and Justice Malala it should have equally been possible to identify just a few people who openly came out against Habib. But, alas, everyone against Habib is seemingly a mob and his allies are given the dignity of being called by their names.
To sweep real human beings, who feel offended or violated by people whose ideas and attitudes are justified and glorified by the dominant power structure, under the parapet of invisibility is to blatantly dehumanise them. Yes, it is to feed into the ideological grid and ontological hierarchies that anchor an anti-Black racist order.
And because there is a never any authentic grounding for prejudices, any attempt at defending them is bound to bring about weird implications; one of those is what is called 'eclecticism'.
The downside of eclecticism, especially in the hands of someone who makes a case in bad faith, is that it makes it possible for them to conveniently rally back-up arguments from so wide range a source that it only exposes their desperation to, at least, seen to been saying something, especially when they feel an ally is attacked.
And this is the case with Cronje. He moves from the argument of intent, "Intent must matter, and it is indisputably clear that Habib had no malicious or harmful intent in what he said..." to scholarly claims "It is clear that Habib was simply participating in an academic debate, which is a perfectly good and reasonable thing to do, and central to what universities do". Really?
What is the difference between his above claims and the "his racist or his patriarchal utterances were a mere slip of the tongue, he did not mean that" statement? I bet, my nine-year old daughter would raise eyebrows over such blatant hypocrisy, if not also stupidity.
Cronje ends his gush of vitriol against 'the mob' with these words, "What is at stake here, and why groups and individuals even beyond those who know him, should also speak in his defence, is the reputation of an innocent individual beyond whose fate rests the question of whether there is a future for the free articulation of ideas and debates in academia and society more broadly".
The problem, actually, lies with the racist, capitalist relations, unashamedly and zealously glorified and justified by the Institute of Race Relations, that constantly and ruthlessly cancels off black people's claims and rights to dignity and humanity. It is such a racially genocidal order that does not merely threaten the future of free speech or debates but rather of life itself.
What is thus at stake is not merely the 'future of the free articulation of ideas and debates', as Cronje claims, but rather of black life itself, especially in this anti-Black racist order that is sustained by the likes of Cronje and the Institute of Race Relations.