THE DOG DEBATE DEBACLE
I reflected for a while if I would? should? post my opinions on our President’s latest PR faux pas – my conscience was pricked by my local radio station, Cape Talk, speaking about their ‘Lead South Africa’ campaign, whereby we are constantly exhorted to lead our country, with small acts on a personal level, or larger efforts on a civic and national level. The idea is we can all do our little bit, perhaps by starting a social upliftment programme, or paying our TV licence fees, obeying the rules of the road, or consciously try to no longer be racist. Despite 18 years of black/majority rule, South Africa is still a deeply divided country, divided by race. Sure, there has been progress and perhaps in another two generations we will be genuinely colour-blind, but we’re not there yet. So: does my article help or hinder?
If there was a prize for getting PR/communications wrong, our Presidency would earn a gold rosette with red ribbons. But maybe I’m being naive. Maybe the President’s spokesman is using Machiavellian tactics, because the President’s recent statement about dog ownership being a White “thing” and not part of Black Culture has certainly distracted the nation from the ongoing enquiries into the wild excess of unauthorized spending on the President’s Inkandhla residence,at taxpayers’ expense. Nobody is talking about Inkhandlagate any more – the airwaves and the front pages are seething with howls of protest about whether Whites do or do not pamper their pet dogs and ignore the plight of their fellow humans – Black Culture, you see, espouses the worthy concept of Ubuntu (see definition below) whereas us Whities are too busy taking our dogs for walks, or dashing to the Vet with our ailing canines to worry about ailing humans. Yes, well – no, fine: as we say in South Africa.
So what is Black Culture about, in the year 2012? Does it mean being upwardly aspirational, driving top of the range 4×4, wearing designer clothes, living in multi-million rand mansions, flying business class and sporting a weave – is this behaviour compatible with the principle of Ubuntu? Nobody says a word about the excesses of the black elite, nobody questions whether this zealous embrace of luxury and capitalism squares up with the tenets of Black Culture. And if somebody does – and here am I, an old white woman – how dare I comment on these issues? Play the Race Card immediately! Do not collect R200, do not pass GO …. etc.
Or is Black Culture about being a traditionalist? Living a rural, patriarchial lifestyle, observing traditional ceremonies? Our President is a polygamist, with four wives. In his Zulu heartland he wears animal skin clothing when he participate in traditional ceremonies. Fine – he has every right to do so. But when ‘in town’ he’s in designer suits, and canny enough – at rallies and meetings – to be up on the stage, dancing and singing traditional Struggle songs, to the delight of his followers. Our President is a Populist, and he knows what his constituency likes.
One gentleman waxed magisterial on the airwaves, telling us that dogs owned by blacks were purely regarded as hunting dogs, and not pets. Now this is true, if we are talking about dogs owned by rural black people. But what of the urban black people living in cities, in the townships, who own dogs – clearly, they are not owned for hunting purposes. And, as an aside, how many times do we not receive appeals from the SPCA/Animal Anti-cruelty/People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals begging us to donate money to ease the plight of the starving, diseased, neglected and abused township dogs? Hmmm?
Then again, a black lady, living in a Joburg suburb indignantly phoned in to report that she loved her five dogs, walked them often, and that dogs as pets is indeed a Black Cultural “thing.” Two sides of the same coin.
And let’s not even get onto the subject of farmers riding in their bakkies with the dog in the cab and their workers in the back. A farmer phoned in to say it was for the workers’ protection – a vicious guard dog would attack the workers, if loaded into the back with the men. Yet another listener sarcastically texted the radio station to say: six workers squashed into the cab, and one Pekingese in the back of the bakkie. I don’t think so. As I said, the debate rages on.
Amidst all the uproar, it has been suggested that what the President was trying to say was:we should care more for each other, according to the principal of Ubuntu, and put people first. Fair enough. But if this is the case, why on earth did he not simply say so instead of playing the ugly and divisive Race Card?
Yet again, as in the case of The Spear of the Nation – remember that uproar in 2012? – it’s a case of worlds colliding in a mammoth Culture Clash; never mind the Mayan end of the world, we have cataclysmic upheavals of comparable scale. Enough of all this unpleasantness, I must leave you now, to go and consult with my pampered cat as to what she would like for dinner.
Thanks to Wikipedia: Tutu further explained Ubuntu in 2008:
One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.