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The right to express but not racially stereotype

28 February 2011

Media Monitoring Africa condemns Sunday World demeaning ‘coloured woman’ and display sexism

This last Sunday Khuli Roberts produced an opinion piece titled, “Jou ma se kinders” (February 2011, pg. 10).  The piece has caused a furore with many accusing the author of racism and sexism. MMA is concerned at the denigratory and discriminatory references to ‘coloured women’ and the ‘coloured race’ perpetuated in the opinion piece on Kuli Roberts’ Page.

Our Constitution makes special provision for Freedom of expression and therefore should be encouraged.  Whilst Nomakhula Roberts has the right to express her views, MMA condemns the stereotypical and offensive manner in which ‘coloured’ people and ‘coloured women’ are depicted in the strongest possible terms.  These views, while protected by the Constitution, are clearly antithetical to the spirit and its founding values of dignity, equality, non racialism and non sexism.

A generous reading of the piece may suggest that the intention was to satirise stereotypes of coloured people and gender based violence.  However given her previous style of writing and non-satirical approach is by no means clear that this was the intention.  As a result it comes across to MMA as racist sexist drivel.

That said, the intention must surely have been to be satirical.  Why else would one publish such offensive material if it wasn’t?  This must surely also have been the thinking of the editor who published the piece. Sadly it isn’t sufficiently well written and executed to be considered satire.

The racist stereotyping perpetuated includes:

  • ‘You will never run out of cigarettes’
  • ‘You 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’

The use of these demeaning generalisations of ‘coloured women’ are offensive as they perpetuate the notion that all coloured women smoke, and that they breed, attributing animalistic qualities to a group of people. This was common practice by the nationalist party and used to dehumanise African people.

In addition to perpetuating racist stereotypes, the comments made are also deeply sexist.  The piece normalizes gender based violence against women by stating, “‘Their bruises are more obvious than ours, so if you hit her it will be easier to see”.  While being able to see if a coloured woman has been physically assaulted” might be easier, as compared to a Black woman, surely the basic point should be that you should not assault a woman irrespective of race?

The comment further implies that on some level women are suited to the position of being a punching bag. Making such a comment also does not condemn the severity and seriousness of violence against women. Given the extraordinary prevalence of gender based violence in South Africa, such comments are not only sexist, but also deeply offensive to every woman who has been a victim of gender based violence.

Given the current public hearings into the Press Council the question may be raised as to whether the piece clearly violates any of the current clauses of the Press Code.  The South African Press Code (section 2) stipulates that the Press are required to “avoid discriminatory or denigratory references to people’s race…gender…” and are only permitted to refer to a person’s racewhere it is“strictly relevant to the matter reported or adds significantly to readers understanding of that matter”. On first reading of the piece, it clearly seems to contravene the Press Code.  It is not clear as to why the author and editor would include the use of such demeaning and trivial stereotypes of ‘coloured women’ when they serve no purpose at all.

It must be noted however that if this were a news piece MMA would be calling for both the editor and the writer to be fired and for the paper to be strongly sanctioned by the Press Council.  The difference however is that this is an opinion piece.

However, as we look to building a culture of accountability of the media, both at the level of the newspaper as well as the Press Ombud, if you disagree MMA encourages all citizens to lodge a complaint with the Sunday World as well as the Press Council. This can be done through MMA’s website: http://www.mediamonitoringafrica.org/index.php/interactive/media_complaint_guide/

Whilst repulsive, poorly conceived and executed, and whilst we may strongly disagree with the views put forward, MMA believes that the author has a right to express them. They perpetuate stereotypes but they do not, in our view, incite harm or violence, which would then see these views no longer protected by our Constitution.

It would appear that the only positive aspect to this piece is that it serves to remind us all of the kind of racist and sexist society we should all be trying to move away from.

Serious questions need to be asked about the editorial policy that allows such blatantly racist and sexist material to be published.  Is this really what the Sunday World thinks their readers want to read?  We call on the Editor and author to issue an unequivocal apology and retraction.

William Bird
Director
Media Monitoring Africa
Mb: +2782 887 1370
Tel: +2711 788 1278
williamb@mma.org.za

Prinola Govenden
Head Media Policy
Media Monitoring Africa
Mb: +2772 708 1320
Tel: +2711 788 1278
prinolag@mma.org.za