The alleged rape of a child at a Dros restaurant last week brought to the fore the ugly side of South Africa that lies just below the surface of our very polarised society.
Sex crimes on their own make for very heavy subject matter, worse when the crime is committed against a defenseless little girl. And it would seem most South Africans were filled with revulsion at the thought of the violation of the child, until social media entered the fray.
What was only a matter of a twisted and sick adult allegedly raping a child turned into an unpalatable race war on Twitter and Facebook.
Like so many discussions in South Africa, the race of the victim and that of the alleged perpetrator became central to the discussion.
And without even trying hard, all the empathy that should have been directed to the little girl and her family went out the window because South Africans don’t do racism discussions well. We always sink to our lowest forms in race discussions, with verbal guns ready to shoot any person of a different race who disagrees with us.
It did not matter anymore that the law says the alleged rapist may not be named or identified before appearing in court and entering a plea.
His face was splashed all over social media. His work address, his home address and his cellphone number were circulated for all to see. His fiancée became collateral damage because she appeared in some of his photos.
But that wasn’t the end of it. It got worse. A video of the alleged perpetrator started doing the rounds, all bloodied after allegedly being assaulted at the scene of his alleged crime. And don’t get this wrong, it wasn’t because of the revulsion at the nature of the crime that people felt it was necessary to share all this, it was because of his race.
It was because “there is an assumption in the media that sex crimes are perpetrated by blacks” said one social media commentator, so this was a fightback of some kind. It didn’t matter to anyone that more damage was being done.
If you think it’s only faceless social media trolls who like dragging race into everything, you would be sorely mistaken.
This way of debating issues reaches into the highest echelons of our society. Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba was involved in a bruising Twitter war with well-known radio personality and author Redi Tlhabi last week.
The “twar” ended with Gigaba launching a defamation lawsuit against Tlhabi, but that was after he had thrown this racism jibe at her: “I’m not bothered by your using my name to ingratiate yourself to the band of uninformed incorrigible racists you’ve made a career out of sucking up to.”
In the charged atmosphere of their public battle, the minister saw fit to bring racism into the arena where the issue under discussion was nothing related to race. The discussion was about the new visa regulations that are part of the president’s stimulus package that’s meant to breathe new life into our stalled economy.
You can take any public discussion in SA’s political landscape, race and racism will be in there somewhere waiting to derail the discussion.
The question of land might seem like the elephant in the room, but the biggest threat to peace in SA remains the unresolved racial issues.