City Press and Haffajee: whose racism is it?

A twitter storm has broken out in the past days regarding City Press’ Editor-in-Chief Ferial Haffajee tweet regarding “[…] naked racism on display yesterday. […]” referring to an internal meeting and what she considered a racist attack against two white editors.

A follow-up tweet from her stated

I don’t tolerate white racists, so what makes black racists any different? Today, I drew a line in that sand. Two sides: one awful coin.

@ferialhaffajee 7:18 PM – 16 Oct 2013

Which unleashed a storm where a.o. Andile Mngxitama and numerous other known figures (and of course Julius Malema) contributed to. I’ve been following some of it on Twitter, and some of it through articles online; that and some comments by friends on Facebook who posted links. Haffajee apparently lodged a complaint as well regarding “cultural superiority” – I assume from black colleagues at City Press, “cultural chauvinism”, and some other stuff. She commented on “Black racism” and a “new oppression”, among other things.

Setting aside all the internal issues at City Press, I’m not partial to their meeting minutes and got no clue what was actually said; to those interested in this check Media Online’s article. My issue here is simply the comments that Haffajee made online, regarding racism, and specifically “Black racism” – please do note my use of quotation marks here.

I’ve always had an issue with how “reverse racism” and “Black racism” are put forward as equally problematic issues as racism. Mostly this is because of the context in which we live, a context of prevailing inequality world wide – for the most part along racial lines – and the enduring effects of colonialism; then there is the neo-colonialism that is rampant nowadays.

The term “Black racism” seems to imply that this particular racism is specific to Black people, which doesn’t make sense. I get “white racism”, which one could argue is specifically linked to – and/or based in – the privilege that comes white skin colour. I get racism, but not “Black racism” or “reverse racism”; the latter would be then from Black to white, reversing a previous trend? I’m not seeing this either.

From my point of view, when I look at South Africa, it is hard to see any “reverse racism” or “cultural superiority” from Black people. Even in the most militant calls for land redistribution I fail to see racism of any kind… from my perspective, if someone steals someone from you and then you go and get it back, it isn’t theft; in cases of the majority of land that is still owned by white people due to colonialism and apartheid, of course this should be rectified. The question that remains is how to do it in a way that the economy can handle.

Of all racism I see in South Africa, I see all of it coming from those who are privileged, which is according to very racialised lines, who at least have lost their political dominance. I have yet to meet any Black people who consider their culture to be superior; instead I see the struggle of Black people whose culture has been – and still is – marginalised and stereotyped as backwards and outdated. While traditions change, as they should, and while there are issues here that need to change (e.g. ukuthwala), can’t Black people try to figure this out in a way that doesn’t stigmatise their culture – and indirectly – themselves? What we get now is too often arguments to turn into “Black culture is problematic”; I guess that is cultural superiority/chauvinism, but not in the way that Haffajee would argue.


Nevill, Glends. Exclusive: Haffajee draws a line in the sand over racism. Media Online (2013-10-17). Retrieved 2013-10-18.

Petersen, Zulfa. Haffajee draws the line on black racism. News24 (2013-10-17). Retrieved 2013-10-18.

Journalists accuse editor of racism: Report. Sowetan Live (2013-10-18). Retrieved 2013-10-18.

City Press to investigate racism claims at paper. Mail & Guardian (2013-10-16). Retrieved 2013-10-18.


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