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When a criticism becomes an attack

The line between criticising the politician and attacking the personality is becoming increasingly blurred at all levels of society. Considering the politics of Bathabile Dlamini, Lawrence Ndlovu asks himself some tough questions on whether he crossed that line and whether it is ever appropriate. 

Xoli Mngambi posted a video on Twitter.  He was doing a walkabout at the ANC conference at Nasrec and he starts recording Bathabile Dlamini trying to put on what seems to be a pair of sunglasses. When Dlamini realises that Mngambi is taking a video of her she quickly turns her back to him and  signals that she does not want to be filmed or photographed. In his light-hearted kind of enquiry Mngambi  asks Dlamini why she does not want to be photographed? Is she not confident? Dlamini responds by saying that when it comes to the media whether one is confident or not is irrelevant; “iconfidence yakho bayisakaza phansi; senayisakaza phansi iconfidence yami”. The media smashes your confidence on the floor; you guys have smashed my confidence on the floor, she says. The video ends in laughter and a smile from Dlamini.

I keep on returning back to this video because it had unsettled something in me.  Initially I found the video funny and refreshing because it displayed the other side of the conference which news agencies do not report on. Upon replaying this video my views changed to the point of complete sadness. This sadness is brought forth by the realisation that although this video is a light-hearted moment in the conference, there is something in what Dlamini says which is her truth. It is a truth about how she has been made to feel. There is something underneath her smile, in that very human moment, which exposes her sadness. Although she is speaking about the media, I cannot help but feel that I am part of the choruses that have shattered her confidence to the floor.

I do not like Dlamini’s politics. I am very disappointed at her and the league of women she leads.  I am disappointed that they say they say that they are advancing the emancipation of women but were very exclusive in their support for women.  They refused to support Lindiwe  Sisulu or even Baleka Mbete for the ANC presidency. They advanced a particular slate to the detriment of other female candidates. I am very disappointed that they supported Mduduzi Manana.

I am not impressed with the way Dlamini handled the grants payments crisis. Her politics have caused many to relate to her in a manner that makes them believe that they can go beyond the agreed point of engagement. For Dlamini in particular, her meeting point with society is her role as caretaker for all things pertaining to government social development programmes. What many of us have done, due to our differing with her politics and manner of governance, is to pursue her viciously to the point of going beyond our agreed meeting place into her very personhood.

I am extremely disappointed with myself. I am upset that I have, many times, advanced an ad hominem argument which has served to belittle Dlamini. Many of us have quipped about her state of what we think is an absence of sobriety. This is regardless of the fact that many of us have never seen Dlamini actually consuming alcohol. Many of us have remarked disparagingly, about what seems to be her difficulty in articulating her thoughts. I have heard people even suggesting that there could be something medically wrong with her.

There is a need for us to explore that condition in us that sees it right to reduce those that we differ to in order to advance the superiority of our logic. I am by no means saying that some arguments, including some that Dlamini makes, should not be criticised if they fall short of basic logic and democratic acumen. I am merely saddened at my own immaturity and my wanting of sensitivity. In my engagement with Dlamini’s politics I have allowed myself to paint her – indeed her personhood – as being somewhat lower because I struggle to understand her. I am one of those who have shattered her confidence because I have refused to meet her at the point where we are most alike – her humanity.

There is a temperament in the world, and indeed South Africa, which cannot stand difference. It is as fascinating as it is scary to listen to people who consider themselves to be belonging to one position, speaking about those of a position different to theirs. I have cringed many times as I listened to people in the Church who speak about conservatives or liberals as if they are subhuman irrational creatures. I have witnessed people who I consider to be very educated and progressive speak horribly about foreign nationals and people whose sexual orientation is different to theirs. The world has seen the tyranny of the majority which sometimes desires nothing but sameness. What is clear is that we are yet to understand democracy in its fullness. We are yet to understand that democracy grants safety and rights to even those that we do not agree with. We are yet to appreciate that our differing with others is not a licence to dehumanise them.

My thinking about Dlamini changed when I saw her in this video. In our pursuit for right action and good governance we have been predatory to the point to gulping into her personhood. This has made us unfair and unprofessional because we have taken for ourselves the inner chambers of someone’s personal space. Maybe I feel this way because it is Christmastide and I am being very sentimental. I also know that I am not done thinking about this. I do know one thing with great certainty; that when we meet in the shared space of our humanity first we are able to distinguish all the other accidents that happen to us by virtue of life’s predications. SA.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.


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Lawrence Mduduzi Ndlovu
A Diepkloof, Soweto born Catholic Cleric, writer, poet and speaker. As a writer he has contributed for several publications including The Daily Maverick, The Thinker, The Southern Cross and The South African. Lawrence read philosophy and theology at St John Vianney Seminary Pretoria, Heythrop College, University of London and the Bellarmine Institute in London. He is a trustee of the St Augustine Education Foundation Trust and an Advisory Council Member of the Southern Cross Weekly.

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