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April 29, 2015

And then Hitler trended on Twitter

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See page for author [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
South Africa has been fraught with tension for the past few weeks. Attacks on foreigners have been making a poor impression of us all around the world, and the international opinion of South Africa is seemingly in a downward spiral as our leadership has done nothing to stifle the xenophobia - if anything it has stoked the fire.

And then Adolf Hitler trended on Twitter.

The German leader responsible for the deaths of 6 million people is always referred to after careful ranking as the biggest douchebag in history. And to refer to him - an outright racist - after weeks of angst is sort of to admit the apex of the crisis that is taking place in the country at the moment, for a casual reference by someone of some aspect of respect for a leader and organiser is pounced upon in an attempt to distract from an as yet unsolved problem.

After reading an article about how much of the population believed the white citizens of the country should withdraw from public discourse about race, history, heritage and politics and remember where we come from, I think Wits University SRC president Mcebo Dlamini's admission for respect for Hitler has provided a sort of outlet for people to comment on the xenophobia situation, who perhaps do not feel welcome in such a discourse, without directly commenting on it.
As a white person in South Africa, I often feel dispossessed of any right to comment on the political and racial situation in the country. Of course I have my complaints and sometimes these complaints end up in conversation, but I always feel tainted by my privilege, by the fact that I do not know what it is like to study by candlelight or line up to use the loo or even what it is like to wonder what I'll be putting in my child's belly tonight. I was in Standard 1 when Nelson Mandela was released from prison and in Standard 4 when the first democratic elections took place; I was at an age at both stages in our history where nothing mattered beyond the next school holiday, so how can I hold the privilege of my forefathers on my innocent shoulders? But I do and take extra care to express my opinion with care and sensitivity if expressing it at all is appropriate.

Many are of the same mind and feel loathe to comment on such situations and xenophobia is one of them. For white South Africans who are often told we don't belong here, commenting on xenophobia in particular may feel dangerous because it really is only a single step between other Africans as foreigners and us as foreigners.

However, South Africa as a rainbow nation is a melting pot of past history and experiences, and going into a public forum with controversial comments is certain to rise temperatures and scratch someone's back the wrong way. It is with sensitivity that our future politicians should broach such subjects. I am not saying that they should not be spoken about, but the public forum is not the correct place for an academic debate and a little forethought is necessary before such things are said.

Just as 'The Avengers: Age of Ultron' actors discovered this week, calling Black Widow a 'slut' will have repercussions, just as Edward Zuma's unconsidered comments on foreigners has consequences, and just as Dlamini's respect for Hitler will have a negative reaction, chain reactions are the inevitable result of insensitivity. It is when this insensitivity comes from our leaders that we should be concerned, for if our leaders cannot even restrain their most ingrained prejudices, then what hope do we have?

{Image credit: See page for author [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons}

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