I’ve been following with interest the furore that has arisen as a result of Kuli Roberts’ latest Sunday World piece about Coloured people. Last night while glancing through the tweets I spotted City Press editor Ferial Haffajee‘s tweet ‘#KuliRoberts #coloureds. (They) breed as if Allan Boesak sent them on a mission to increase the race’ and then ‘Why does Kuli get away with it? She’s not getting away with it this time.’ Unable to find the article on the web last night a few fellow tweeters sent me the link – and so I read it. Six times.
Thing is… I know Kuli Roberts – not well, but well enough to know that she would probably voice similar thoughts to your face – unapologetically. For what effect I’m not sure other than to do what we South Africans do at dinner parties and after work drinks sessions – we talk and debate and joke about race and racial stereotypes. I remember her saying to me when I was pregnant, ‘well at least your daughter will never have to worry about relaxing her hair’. I laughed and agreed. And though you might be inclined to wince a little at some of her other more vitriolic statements, you know it is uttered in the no-filter-Kuliesque manner that everyone finds entertaining. Until now. And just a few days after government spokesperson Jimmy Manyi was made to apologise for saying Coloured people 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’.
Redi Thlabi in her show this morning addressed the column and appealed to us to forget about the writer – when a caller questioned her authority – and to focus on the content. I tried that. If we are to find an excuse or explanation to some how justify this piece then we can say it’s a failed attempt at satire. I don’t think that was her aim. For me it reads like a raw but rather weak attempt at humour that only succeeds in touching sensitive nerves rather than find tickle our delicate sensibilities. What’s the difference between what she wrote and what Marc Lottering and David Kau make a living doing? Because we cannot separate the subject or the content from the person delivering it. Because until you know something first hand or have earned the right to poke fun at it, no one wants to hear it in a national newspaper. Because if you aren’t making a specific point, why make vast and sweeping generalizations? Last year I attending a comedy evening where Trevor Noah was scheduled to perform. Darren Whackhead Simpson’s job was to warm up the crowd for the headliner but instead of drawing laughter succeeded in driving a number of guests out of his show before it ended with his miserable and rather offensive attempt at poking fun at Indian people. We couldn’t even stomach sitting through it to see Noah that night.
A colleague pointed out that perhaps feathers might not have been ruffled had Kuli left sex/sexuality out of it. Race and sex and/or sexuality are a lethal combination. I encourage open and honest conversations about race. In fact I thrive on it. But in a public platform, there is a measure of responsibility with the writer – and more so with the editor. And at the risk of using the rather transparent ‘my best friend is black’ excuse… having Coloured relatives, a daughter who’s father is Coloured, and extended family) I have to say I was not particularly offended by Kuli’s words. So I sent the article to my husband to get his thoughts. His words: ‘It’s rather ridiculous. Even for her’.