Terence Grant vs Cape Argus

Complainant: Terence Grant

Lodged by: Terence Grant

Article:  We must all admit to our racism in order to heal – Only honest discussion about the underlying anger caused by race issues can save us

Author of article:  Gerhard Papenfus

Date:  9 February 2016

Respondent:  Abigail Oliver, on behalf of the Cape Argus

Complaint

Grant is complaining about an article in the Cape Argus of 21 January 2016, headlined: We must all admit to our racism in order to heal – Only honest discussion about the underlying anger caused by race issues can save us

He complains that the article did the following to white people:

·         It justified hate speech and death threats against them (by stating it was “understandable” that people responded “viciously” to Ms Penny Sparrow’s comments);

·         It intimidated them (by emphatically saying that failure to address racism adequately would result in everyone perishing); and

·         It justified or excused genocide (details below).

The text

The article was written by Gerhard Papenfus (COO of the National Employers’ Association of South Africa). He stated that, without condoning Sparrow’s remarks, she has in fact done the country a favour in that her remarks “have set in motion a process which has shown us where we stand in the area of race relations – South Africa’s Achilles heel”.

(Sparrow, a white estate agent, has recently compared black people to monkeys.)

He argued that to criminalise racism, as some people have advocated, would merely leave unchallenged the underlying attitudes plaguing this nation.

Papenfus then called for an open discussion – “It is time that the racists meet and talk.”

The arguments

Grant objects to inter alia the following statements:

·         “There is merit in not leaving the remarks made by Sparrow and those who (understandably) responded viciously, unchallenged.”

·         Regarding failure to address racism adequately: “This is the biggest challenge facing us as a nation, and there’s no way out, there’s just no alternative: get this right or perish.”

·         “Because of what she said people want to kill her, murder her; not only her, but also all those of the same race – so-called ‘whites’. That, of course, includes me. But I honestly don’t mind people threatening to kill me. To go so far as to desire to commit a murder, to set in motion mass murder (genocide), must be the result of unbearable bitterness and anger. I wish I can meet my murderer, for the sake of his/her healing, and mine.”

From this, Grant complains the writer insinuated that whites deserved to be killed and that blacks could hardly be blamed should they do so. He also argues there would be hell to pay if a newspaper allowed a black person to suggest that blacks deserved to be killed (for whatever reason).

Oliver replies that the article was a report on the various racial matters currently in the limelight in South Africa. “The article was not justifying anything. Mr. Grant is clearly misunderstanding the article,” she argues.

Analysis

I shall discuss the sentences/paragraphs in question (as cited above) one by one, before looking at the article in its totality:

·         “There is merit in not leaving the remarks made by Sparrow and those who (understandably) responded viciously, unchallenged.”

The complaint is that people “understandably responded viciously” to Sparrow’s remarks, and that the use of these words justified hate speech and death threats against white people.

I am at a loss for words regarding this part of the complaint. Of course many people would “understandably respond viciously” to Sparrow’s statement – not only black people, but also people of all colours and ethnicities. Any reference to any person or group of people as an animal is bound to provoke some “vicious” reaction.

If Grant is not “understandably” upset by Sparrow’s words, and therefore does not “respond viciously” himself, that is his choice – but he should give those people who do “respond viciously” the same freedom to exercise their choice.

How the use of the phrase in question equals “hate speech” and “death threats” is also beyond me.

·         Regarding failure to address racism adequately: “This is the biggest challenge facing us as a nation, and there’s no way out, there’s just no alternative: get this right or perish.”

Grant complains that the use of the words “get this right or perish” intimidated whites (by saying, he argues, that failure to address racism adequately would result in “everyone” perishing).

If racism is South Africa’s Problem Number One, as many believe it is, then indeed there is no alternative but to “get it right”. If Papenfus also believes that South Africans would perish if the issue of racism is not addressed adequately, surely that is his right– and the newspaper is justified in reporting that view.

Moreover, the statement in question did not say that only white people would perish, or that only whites should perish – it merely stated Papenfus’s conviction that a catastrophe would result if the problem was not solved.

·         “Because of what she said people want to kill her, murder her; not only her, but also all those of the same race – so-called ‘whites’. That, of course, includes me. But I honestly don’t mind people threatening to kill me. To go so far as to desire to commit a murder, to set in motion mass murder (genocide), must be the result of unbearable bitterness and anger. I wish I can meet my murderer, for the sake of his/her healing, and mine.”

The complaint is that these statements insinuated that whites deserved to be killed.

There is a world of difference between saying there are people who “want to” kill Sparrow, and that she (and other whites) “deserve” to be killed. The latter is not what Papenfus either said or implied, which nullifies Grant’s complaint on this issue.

I believe that my arguments above are also valid with regards to the article in its totality.

Therefore, I concur with Oliver’s argument that Papenfus was not justifying hatred or genocide and the like, and that Grant has misunderstood article.

Finding

The complaint is dismissed.

Appeal

Our Complaints Procedures lay down that within seven working days of receipt of this decision, either party may apply for leave to appeal to the Chairperson of the SA Press Appeals Panel, Judge Bernard Ngoepe, fully setting out the grounds of appeal. He can be contacted at Khanyim@ombudsman.org.za.

Johan Retief

Press Ombudsman