About Dianne Kohler-Barnard, That Facebook Post Share and Why #BlackVotesMatter

The DA’s Federal Legal Commission will decide on Dianne Kohler-Barnard’s future in the Party now that she’s pleaded guilty to misconduct, bringing the Party into disrepute and not abiding by the Party’s social media policy.

In the wake of Helen Zille’s shoot-from-the-hip online stunts, I am surprised to discover that the Party has a social media policy. I must have been living under a rock.

The Facebook post by Paul Kirk shared by Kohler-Barnard concluded with, “Please come back PW Botha — you were far more honest than any of these [African National Congress] rogues, and you provided a far better service to the public.” She later deleted it and said she’d shared it without reading the entire write-up.

It was too late: there was blood in the water. Even Justin Malala wrote a terse, poetic piece on why Mmusi Maimane will have no choice but to “call Kohler Barnard in and make it clear to her that she has to resign. Immediately. She must not wait for a disciplinary hearing.”

Malala’s argument is this: given that Maimane was made party leader so the DA could counter the accusation that it simply brings in black faces to disguise white interests while securing the black vote, he would have no choice but to get rid of Kohler-Barnard in order to prove the mettle of the DA’s anti-apartheid stance. Her exit would not depend on the findings of the Commission but on the DA’s positioning for next year’s elections. Politics trump principles.

I am fascinated by the events that didn’t happen: Kohler-Barnard did not defend herself, nor was that defence followed by a tide of (mostly white people’s) proposing the possibility that what Kirk’s post really meant was that relative to current government’s corrupt approach, PW Botha was simply better at “getting things done,” and keeping “the public” (read, white people) informed and serviced.

In other words, Kirk and Kohler-Barnard merely meant PW Botha’s administration was preferable to the ANC’s apart from how Botha used his skills against black people, in the same way that Hitler would be preferable for leadership to someone with no political acumen or experience apart from how and to what ends he used his political charisma against Jewish people. It’s cold hard math, not warm fuzzy feelings; we shouldn’t take it so personally.

This “explanation” would then have unleashed the wrath of #BlackTwitter. (Post one un-PC thing and this force of nature will flatten you into a hashtag and have you go viral faster than Olivia Pope can fix your reputation). #BlackTwitter would have pointed out that PW Botha could only get things “done” by getting innocent people done in. And indeed, if you’re a member of the race with the greater number of legal cards stacked on your side and free reign to get things done by doing as you please with another race that exists to serve the needs of your administration and your race, your effectiveness isn’t proof that you’re good at your job; it’s that the toughest rule of governance has been removed from the game, namely, the rule that we don’t get things done by killing and exploiting innocent people. Remove that rule, and you don’t have to be truly brilliant to be effective. Saying someone who’s done that is “smart” is like saying someone who’s won a race by tripping and sabotaging everyone else has become very fast by training very hard; it’s celebrating the narrative of white accomplishment by ignoring the footnote of black pain.

#BlackTwitter‘s point on this matter should go without saying. Because if it doesn’t, then why hasn’t anyone described Moral Mugabe as an excellent politician apart from an evaluation of how and to what ends he’s used his political skill? Someone may answer this hasn’t been done because he’s plunged countless black people into poverty. Well, then, why are many of those black people agreeing that he’s brilliant despite their poverty? The real reason he hasn’t been lauded the same way Hitler is often praised for his leadership skills, is that he struck against white farmers, businessmen and Britain. You cannot be paid the compliment that you’re brilliant if you’ve done something against systemic whiteness. If you achieve greatness at the expense of blacks, Jews and homosexuals, it’s okay for someone to acknowledge your brilliance as long as they specify that they’re doing so apart from an assessment on how you used it against those blacks, Jews and homosexuals; there, the human element of your victims may be separated from the assessment of your genius. Achieve greatness at the expense of Dutch and English businessmen, farmers and colonialists, however, and you have affronted everything that is civilization, that is human, virtuous and good, and cursed be he who assesses or compliments your brilliance apart from an evaluation of how you achieved it at the expense of white lives and systems. Now that you’ve struck closer to white stomachs, the dominant discourse will vilify you until even otherwise objective and impartial white people are blinded from the systemic privilege built up by the dominance of the dominant white voices and media. Fill those stomachs, however (even if it’s at the cost of other races’ lives), and people will be more inclined to assess your “technical brilliance” apart from the cost to human lives. It all depends on which way the bottle points, really.

Still, hadn’t Kohler-Barnard apologized, these defenders would have gone on to make  withering remarks about the intellectual shallowness and hypersensitivity of black people who’re “still stuck in the past” and cannot think “objectively” enough about Kirk’s “impartial” and “factual” comparison of Botha’s presidency and effectiveness to Zuma’s administration. These explainers would have also insinuated how you can’t expect more from Bantu Education graduates — assuming “these people” even got that far — and would have then pointed out how some of their own acquaintances/gardeners/maids/born-free kids’ friends agree with Kirk and Kohler-Barnard’s assessment of the respective administrations, and wish some elements of apartheid could be brought back.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Kohler-Barnard pre-empted the possibility of this to-and-fro by immediately embracing the criticism. Not even Allister Sparks was that “smart” so I do believe she was just careless on social media — something many in the DA (and many of us mere mortals) fall into all the time — which makes me wonder what exactly the DA’s social media policy says. Why the sudden clean-up? Is it that Kohler-Barnard accidentally stepped onto the landmine of Maimane’s political branding and the majority voters’ hot-button issue of that feared return to apartheid under DA rule?

Recall that in the run-up to the party leadership elections earlier this year, Mmusi Maimane said (in a televised debate) that he’d support a referendum over gay rights. There was something of a furore on social media. But there were also people who didn’t get what issues a referendum on gay rights would pose given that we’re in a democracy and “the majority rules” so straight majorities should be able to decide individual gay people’s rights without contemplating what the reverse would feel like. And if you’re “normal” as is defined by everyone you were lucky enough to be born looking and feeling like, you don’t have to think such a possibility through.

For pastoral and political reasons, Maimane could not retract his statement (or video sermons where he likens homosexuality to an illness), and luckily for him there wasn’t enough pressure for it to come to that. But there was just enough pressure that he had to dilute what he’d said, putting it to a slow death by a thousand qualifications. So he defended. He explained. He practically denied. He expressed indignation that “some people” were “twisting” what he’d said, without explaining how they’d twisted anything apart from making logical inferences in it. He shadow-boxed the whole thing to oblivion and won not just that battle but opposition party leadership. I was ready to fall at Gareth van Onselen’s feet and worship him as a prophet.

Maimane subsequently posted pictures of himself with gay friends, witnessing their unions and so forth. The reason I wouldn’t give those the weight of a full retraction is that they were not retractions and their context was muted. If I say something negative about coloured people, do I fix it by taking a selfie with coloured friends? Do I say, “Some of my best friends are coloured people”? No. I either apologize or I don’t. The thing either is or it isn’t. Maimane didn’t, and most of us were too blinded by the bright, blue light of his inauguration to care.

If a politician said he’d be open to a referendum on, say, Indian people’s rights, several things would happen:   The Indian segment of our population (being about 2.5% of us) would be split 90%-10%, 9/10 of Indian standing against the referendum, and 10% of them (including intelligent, well-known people) being “open-minded” enough to “allow space” for “intelligent discussion” on it so that our “democracy would be strengthened.”   The rest of the population would probably be split as follows:   About 5% would reject the call for such a referendum and report whoever made it to the Human Rights Commission. They’d petition their employees to fire them and boycott their products and services.   5% would quietly agree it’s inhumane and disgusting. And 10% (a sampling from each of the other races) would say, “About damned time!” Remember when Mbongeni Ngema made “Amandiya“? People came up with a thousand “reasons” Ngema was right then, and they’d come up with ten thousand as to why the constitutional rights of Indian persons should be subjected to popular opinion now.   More tragically, about 40% would think, “Well, it’s not about us so there’s no need to panic; we’re not exactly sure why anyone is picking on the Indians in particular but they must have done something terrible to deserve being picked on, otherwise why would so many people, many of them darlings of the government too, agree to such drastic measures?” And they would slowly accept the hateful rhetoric spouted by the hateful 5% as gospel truth. Because, rather than believe we’re swimming in a sea of evil that could turn against any of us for reasons and lies beyond our control for its own populist ends, we’d rather believe the evil’s report on the hunted minority instead of calling it out as evil.   Now, substitute “German population” for this impressionable 40%, “Jews” for “Indians” and “Nazi Regime” for “South Africa,” and you’ll realize why history repeats itself: so long as it’s happening “over there” to “them,” and my children and I are safe; there is no need to speak up for “them” over there. Especially since the accusations against them seem to be true the more you listen to them. Account for the remaining 37.5% as you see fit.   

Now, if we spin this bottle we’ll find that whenever a statement is made in which a minority could be threatened by a majority or a hegemony, the outrage is quantitatively smaller; in turn, the backlash against the person who originated the statement is less severe. That’s why Maimane ultimately wasn’t pushed to apologize for saying he would support a referendum on gay rights.   

On the other hand, whenever a statement is made in which a majority could be threatened by a minority or a hegemony, the outrage is so spectacular that immediate punishment is expected to be shown against the person who made the statement. Depending on which way the top end as opposed to the bottom end of that spinning bottle points at the polarized, conquered and divided groups, you can expect a different chemistry in the interaction between those who have been given the power of actor and those who are acted-upon; between those who have the power to decide the rights of “the other” and the other whose rights are decided. Maimane knowingly said he’d be open to a referendum on gay rights, didn’t apologize or retract, defended himself to the nth degree, and was made DA party leader. Kohler-Barnard accidentally called for a referendum on black rights, unreservedly apologized, didn’t defend herself, and was frogmarched to a disciplinary. Why? Because of the way the bottle span, which side the flat, big side ended versus the open, small and pointed top pointed, on that statistical pie chart, with her as a minority threatening the voting majority and, by extension, the DA’s likelihood of getting its votes.

We’re just kids playing social and political spin-the-bottle. But the rules change with every spin and no one is really keeping score.

Do the “disciplinary proceedings” get carried out just to lend substance to the DA’s rhetoric, then? Are they, like the Oscar Pistorius trial or the race before Maimane’s landslide victory as Opposition Party Leader, a formality given to reassure all of us that there is some rhyme or reason to how things happen “up there”?

Do they just happen to convince us that the Powers-That-Be don’t only react (rather inconsistently) to events only because #BlackVotesMatter but because those events truly call for those responses?

I guess we’ll have to wait for the outcome to find out. Way I see it, the DA is damned if it makes her resign and damned if it doesn’t.

Siya Khumalo blogs about religion, politics and sex

Please follow and share @SKhumalo1987

Contact SKhumalo1987@gmail.com


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